Every teacher has horror stories from their classrooms, and those stories don’t always involve their students. Sometimes confrontational parents who do not want to hear the truth about their children can cause more grief for a teacher than any troublesome student. Joanna Adams’ 2013 play Gidion’s Knot, which is currently being performed by New York City theatre company The Seeing Place, examines what modern teachers are faced with from both their students and the parents of students when a heartbreaking situation results in finger pointing to find who deserves the blame.
Heather (Susan Izatt) is a fifth grade teacher who is troubled by recent developments in her personal and professional lives. She is startled by a mother, Corryn (Erin Cronican), who arrives for a previously scheduled parent-teacher conference. However, Corryn’s son Gidion is no longer a student in Heather’s class because he recently committed suicide. Heather is blindsided by Corryn’s visit because she naturally assumed that the conference was unnecessary in the wake of Gidion’s death. However, Corryn comes with the intention of getting answers from Heather about the circumstances surrounding Gidion’s suicide – though Heather has few of the answers that Corryn is seeking. What follows is a real-time confrontation between an aggressive, grieving mother who is seeking closure and a nerve-wracked teacher who is afraid of saying the wrong thing but won’t let Corryn believe what she wants to believe about her son’s actions.
In addition, Gidion’s Knot also examines other modern issues in education, including censorship and bullying. The latter is dealt with in a very interesting manner in the context of the play. In her eagerness to pin the blame of Gidion’s death on bullying or Heather’s possible indifference to her son’s talent, Corryn herself becomes a bully as she demands that Heather gives her the answers she wants to hear. Though Heather is a ball of nerves, she won’t let Corryn walk all over her that easily.
It’s worth noting that Corryn admits that she wasn’t a good mother, and it’s obvious from her lack of knowledge of Gidion’s schoolwork and social interactions that she was, at best, an inattentive mother and, at worst, too self-absorbed to care about her son. Cronican’s performance as Corryn highlights this aspect of the character. She paces Heather’s classroom with a disdainful look on her face as she tries to rhetorically trap Heather into taking responsibility for Gidion’s actions. For the most part, Cronican controls the flow of the interaction as the aggressor, ranging from cold and calculating to fiery. Izatt’s Heather has the challenge of responding to Corryn’s forceful nature without coming off as too weak-kneed. She is superb at conveying her character’s emotional state, and it’s a marvel that she can perform with such sensitivity for the play’s entire runtime.
Perhaps the goal of Gidion’s Knot can be summed up, as Corryn says during the play, “to search for something authentic in a field of bullshit.” The problem is, both Corryn and Heather seem to be working with different definitions of the word “authentic” (and probably different definitions of the word “bullshit” as well). Cronican and Izatt both convey the emotional struggle effectively, which creates seventy minutes of thought-provoking performance.
GIDION’S KNOT runs at the Clarion Theatre (309 East 26th Street, New York) through December 20 along with Martin McDonagh’s THE PILLOWMAN. Performances run Monday-Sunday on alternating days. Check out http://www.seeingplacetheater.com for more information. Photo credit: Natasha Straley.