Invalid Displayed Gallery
by Johnna Adams
square product theatre and Goddess Here Productions
Dairy Center for the Arts, Boulder, CO
Emily K. Harrison
Gidion’s Knot is a play about seeking the truth and how our varied perceptual filters shade what constitutes “the truth.” It is the story of a grieving mother seeking answers from a system that is bent on obscuring those answers for its own protection. It is the story about two women coping with loss in very different ways and how our assumptions can be both accurate and misleading.
Each woman firmly believes in the core of her being that what she is fighting for is right. Neither woman walks in prepared for the situation in which she finds herself. Corryn questions, cajoles, prods, and presses in her quest to learn why her son shot himself in the head and who might be responsible. Heather coaxes, protects, evades, and deflects as she seeks to deescalate a very fraught situation. Corryn thinks she is prepared, but is thrown by Heather’s surprising honesty, the ultimate truth about Gidion’s struggle, and her own obliviousness to it. Heather grapples with the dual focus of being distressed and distracted by her cat’s impending death and her part in it, while at the same time trying to console a woman who cannot possibly be consoled, whose son killed himself perhaps in part due to choices that Heather made. Both women are quick to place blame but ultimately discover that they are both to blame and that doesn’t make either of them feel any better. Corryn finds catharsis in a completely different way than she expected while we are left wondering if and how Heather has changed by the end.
What fascinates me about this play is its absolutely unflinching approach to grief, to the corrupt blandness of our litigious society, to the messy complexities of parenting and teaching. I love the pressure-cooker intensity of this situation—all of the social niceties instilled in two well-educated, middle-class women crash against the brutal death of one brilliant, conflicted little boy. I love the twists as each woman’s assumptions are reinforced and then upended. I love that the play contains so many secrets to uncover in a scant 80 minutes. I love how this play acknowledges that compassion and blame, empathy and accusation can exist simultaneously in the same person in the same moment. I want the audience to walk away thinking about these complexities. I want them to be invigorated and broken by Corryn’s monologue (“You talk to him while they kill him. Talk to him and tell him you love him…”) and to be needled by the philosophy at the heart of Corryn’s monologue of “get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’” such that they agonize at the end over what Heather will do. Will she be there? Will she own her part and be there for her cat until the end? Or will she take the easy way out and spend the rest of her life trying to escape her guilt?
This play only works if the acting is balls-to-the-wall honest and the stakes are through the roof. Each actor must be 100% committed to every choice, super present in the moment, and listening, listening, listening.
We’ll approach the abundant ellipses with a light touch. Most should be a breath, a glance, a very quick beat. These are not Pinter pauses and each should be a choice with clear, unspoken subtext.
We will set the play in the present day. The script is firmly rooted in realism and we will focus on authenticity in the design elements while not getting too obsessive. The school in which the play is set is in a very wealthy suburb of Chicago, so the classroom should look nicely maintained and organized. We won’t go so far as to have fancy smart boards like many well-equipped classrooms today have, but we will have whiteboards instead of the more old-fashioned chalk boards. The bulletin boards will reflect Heather’s meticulousness and the desks will be arranged in the “pod style” that seems to be all the rage nowadays.
We will use simplicity as an aesthetic, using only what furniture and set dressings are absolutely essential to tell this story. To establish the classroom confines we will use two cork bulletin boards SR on a diagonal and two white dry erase boards SL on a diagonal to suggest walls that meet UC. Heather’s teacher’s desk will be UC toward the corner of the room. The door to the classroom will be DL on an angle such that the door will only be visible when it opens into the classroom. We will have three student desk pods, and each desk will have cubbyholes to hold pens, books, etc. The desks will be arranged in such a way as to imply that the classroom keeps going into the audience, so that the audience feels like it is in the corner of the classroom, unseen voyeurs to this intense parent-teacher conference. The setting should feel realistic through the suggestion of the space. The angle of the “walls” should create a slightly forced perspective that both embraces and confines the audience in this “classroom.” One bulletin board will be covered with student projects on Greek mythology. The other will have some theme about writing and will be covered in student papers. We may want to have a low shelf below the white boards on which we can sit some foam core student project boards.
The lighting should be realistic, without many internal changes to distract from the action on stage. If there are fades they should be epically slow. The lighting should reflect the setting of early April, 2:45 to 4:15pm. We could play with the idea of the plane where the audience is being an external wall of the classroom with a row of windows up high, through which “natural light” might shine. While it would be nice to have the suggestion of the cooler quality of fluorescent lights overhead, we don’t need actual fluorescents for our purposes—cooler-colored gels would be fine.
Sound will be minimal, just focusing on the required cue of the bell ringing and children pouring into the hall outside of the classroom and the cell phone ringing at the end. I’m still debating the pros and cons of preshow and post show music for this one….
Should be very realistic, subtle and current. Bold, dynamic lines with a practical edge and urban flair for Corryn; a softer, more conservative silhouette for Heather. Both should look pulled together. Neither woman’s clothes should be flashy, nor should they restrict their movement in any way—I’m feeling pants for both but we can discuss if either actor feels otherwise. Glasses might be nice for Heather.
Like the set, props should be streamlined, using only what is called for in the dialogue and essential for establishing the setting and telling the story.
Hand Props List:
– mug of tea (pg. 1)
– Heather’s cell phone (small, not fancy) (pg. 1)
– stack of student papers (pg. 1)
– red pen
– purse for Corryn (large, carryall style) (pg. 6)
– rumpled piece of paper w/ handwriting on it (preset in Corryn’s purse) (pg. 6)
– two textbooks (math & social studies) (pg. 30)
– a box of pencils (pg. 30)
– three folders with comic book superheroes on the covers (pg. 30)
– a spiral bound notebook (pg. 30)
– two stapled class assignments with A+ written on them in red ink (one w/ pin hole in corner) (pg. 30)
– a folded note (on notebook paper) (pg. 30)
– key ring w/ school keys (pg. 62)
– folder covered in comic superheroes (diff. than ones in desk) (pg. 62)
– box of tissues (Heather’s desk) (pg. 100)
– parent-teacher conference form (preset in Corryn’s purse) (pg. 107)
– blue pen (Heather’s desk) (pg. 108)
– papers, pencil boxes, books in other desks
– mythology projects on DR bulletin board
– writing assignments on UR bulletin board
– Gordian knot report (foam core triptych on a shelf below whiteboards??)
– framed cat photo (Heather’s desk)
– mail organizer tray stack (Heather’s desk)
– shelving made of milk crates holding books or supplies along “wall” under white boards
– books or boxes of supplies
If…you expect more from the stage — confrontation, drama, empathy, rage — this is a play that will almost certainly astonish you…Gidion’s Knot builds upon each emotional note, resolving itself in a way that will both inspire and break your heart.
The setting for Gidion’s Knot is familiar and innocuous…But a psychological whirlwind will soon be let loose in this setting, in a charged confrontation between teacher Heather Clark and Corryn Fell, the mother of a suspended student — a whirlwind that’s a potent mix of ancient violence…and such modern concerns as children’s sexuality and creativity versus conformity.
Surprises and plot twists are sprinkled throughout the evening like little bombs going off in your heart…This is a powerfully written piece that offers no easy solutions, and it is given voice by two powerful actresses who are so invested in this story…WOW factor: 9 [out of 10]