PHOTO: Natalie Bulajic (left) and Krystal Glover star in the emotional drama "Gidion's Knot" at Theater on the Edge. (Marco DiGeorge/courtesy photo)
"The kind of play for which the word 'fraught' was invented." - by Matt Palm
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Slow to build, 'Gidion's Knot' pays off in tangle of wrenching emotions
By Matt Palm
“Gidion’s Knot,” onstage at Theater on the Edge, is the kind of play for which the word “fraught” was invented. Emotion hangs heavy in the air from the moment the lights go up on designer Samantha DiGeorge’s typical elementary-school classroom. Why is the teacher choking back tears?
There are plenty more tears to come in this two-actor drama, given a thoughtful staging at the Edgewood theater, south of downtown Orlando. “Gidion’s Knot” has the sort of twisty plot that makes it difficult to say too much about what happens without ruining the experience.
What is obvious at the outset is that a woman has arrived for a conference with her son’s teacher — but this is no ordinary meeting. The son has been suspended, but why? Both the teacher and the mother find it difficult to find the words. The most ordinary exchanges are somehow labored, difficult, unsettling.
Director Pam Harbaugh and her actors do a fine job of establishing this level of tension at the play’s start. The characters’ unease contrasts beautifully with the ordinariness of the setting: posters about the parts of speech, the solar system and the presidents on the classroom wall, a little American flag mounted next to the chalkboard.
But Harbaugh doesn’t control that tension as carefully as she might. Eventually, the awkward silences and nervous fiddling begin to sap energy from the plot rather than fuel it. Instead of a slow and steady dramatic build, we get a long stretch of the same slightly disturbing emotional level — and then a sudden jump to horror. Other productions have run 75-85 minutes; this one, at slightly more than 90, feels long.
The pacing, though, doesn’t detract from the involving work by the actors. Krystal Glover, as the teacher, has to hold her cards closer to her chest at the start but creates a layered character as her feelings are challenged and her self-control begins to wane.
As the mother, Natalie Bulajic portrays a woman barely hanging onto her emotions — her shifts in tone are as startling as they are effective. It’s a gutsy performance that pays off.
Playwright Johnna Adams gets into meaty issues. For one, can artistic expression be harmful? And she cleverly lets the puzzle of what happened to young Gidion, which involves contemporary headline-making social issues — unfold a bit at a time.
“Gidion’s Knot” isn’t an easy play to watch — but the most thought-provoking ones so often aren’t.