PHOTO: From left: Natalie Bulajic and Krystal Glover in GIDION’S KNOT at Theater on the Edge. Set design by Sam DiGeorge. Photo by Monica Mulder.
"Gidion’s Knot is a must-see production!" - by Joan Taddie
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Review: Gidion's Knot at Theater on the Edge
By Joan Taddie, Theater Critic
A rainbow of colors greets the audience as they enter the performance space of Theatre On The Edge’s current production of “Gidion’s Knot” by Johanna Adams. Set designer, Sam DiGeorge, wows us again with another signature hyper-realistic set; this time a present day public school 5th grade classroom in a suburb of Chicago. The familiar room includes a neat arrangement of desks in groups of four with essential school supplies in a cup in the middle of each group, chairs labeled with the students’ names, hall passes hanging by the door, an aquarium with live turtles, and bulletin boards displaying important curriculum information as well as outstanding student work.
Audience members smile and chuckle and point out things in the classroom that they remember from their experiences as students, parents and in some cases, as teachers.
Beautiful, but haunting music begins as the lights begin to fade. The last area in the classroom lit before blackout is a bulletin board devoted to the “Gordion Knot,” a knot in ancient mythology that represents a problem so complicated that it is difficult, almost impossible, to solve.
When the lights come up on this two-person, real-time, 90 minute one-act play, the colorful and light-hearted mood darkens as a teacher, Heather Clark, (Krystal Glover) breaks into tears as she tries to grade papers while constantly checking her cell phone. Corryn Fell, (Natalie Bulajic) knocks on Heather’s classroom door looking for the room she is scheduled to report to for a parent-teacher conference. Heather, trying to compose herself, sends the mother to the front office for assistance, but the mother returns and knocks again. The third time Corryn returns, Heather realizes that she is facing the mother of eleven year old Gidion Fell, a student in her class who she had suspended three days before because he wrote and circulated a story that was extremely disturbing. The story describes in vivid detail the torturing, raping, and killing of teachers in the school, including her.
Director Pam Harbaugh, pairs two terrific actresses to lead the audience through this play’s wrenching twists and turns. Although this is an intimate theatre, Harbaugh’s dynamic blocking sets up a feeling that Bulajic’s character, Corryn, is circling the teacher like a predatory animal ready to pounce on any piece of information Heather might share that would point to who or what is responsible for Gidion’s troubles. Glover’s Heather fights to control her emotions and strives to respond professionally to Corryn’s questions and accusations that are fed by a deep, inner turmoil that is ready to explode.
Both actresses are brilliant in this emotional dance. Their body language reflects what is unspoken, but deeply felt. An outstanding example of this occurs when Heather finally agrees to read the book to Corryn that resulted in Gidion’s suspension and tragic consequence.
Adams’ riveting play brings up many complicated questions. Who is to blame for the ensuing tragedy? Could it be a second-year teacher who left a disappointing career in marketing, or a single mother who we later learn is also a professor of medieval literature at Northwestern University. Should children be allowed freedom of expression in the pursuit of their art? Does a parent or an educator have a responsibility to censor a child’s artistic product? What adult decisions damage or enhance a child’s happiness and love of self?
Carryn confronts Heather and states, “You want children to be something they’re not. Innocent.”
As the parent-teacher conference continues, the discussions between the teacher and the mother begin to increase in intensity, until the shocking moment when Corryn can no longer cope with another heart-wrenching revelation about her son. Bulajic’s Carryn unleashes a berserk, unhinged violence that reveals her inability to continue to cope another second with the unthinkable. Carryn releases a wail that floods the theatre with all the pain and anger and loss that she has kept hidden for so long within the dark places of her heart.
Glover’s Heather is physically drawn to this howling, angry, thrashing, sorrowful mother. The souls of these two women join together in an emotional and physical connection that leaves them exhausted and spiritually spent. They experience a brief moment of sisterhood before the two separate, gather themselves and return to their very own and very different worlds.
Listening to his mother’s stories, Gidion longed to join the ancient poets who tell their stories at the top of the sacred mountain. But like “Gordion’s Knot,” this proves to be an impossible problem to solve without using, as did Alexander, a bold solution that stuns and shocks everyone in his world.
“Gidion’s Knot” is a must-see production!