The title of the latest offering from the Dramatic Repertory Company relates to the famous legend of the Gordian Knot. It’s a tale often referenced when a seemingly impossible problem is encountered. “Cut it? Or figure it out?” asks one of the two characters in this very intense and moving one-act drama.
“Gidion’s Knot,” in its Maine premiere, concerns the confrontation that ensues when the mother of a fifth-grade student named Gidion unexpectedly shows up for a parent-teacher conference which had been scheduled prior to the boy’s suicide. It’s an awkward and, often, hard-edged encounter where both parent and teacher try hard to contain their raw emotions and reach a shared understanding of what has happened.
The boy had been suspended after passing around a story he had written with disturbing images of extreme violence taking place at school. Was the teacher right to suspend him or was she, in an era when incidents of school violence have become all-to-common, overreacting to what was essentially a growing child’s effort to express himself creatively? And what might his mother have done differently to possibly prevent the ultimate tragedy?
A parent’s guilt and a teacher’s concern each try to claim the “high ground” in a whirl of super-charged exchanges. But the questions raised, as author Johnna Adams very artfully brings out in the 70-minute play, multiply without adding up to a comforting answer.
Bess Welden plays the single parent, Corryn, a grad-school literature professor who wants her son’s death “explained.” Welden is strong in traversing the ground between grieving and anger at a teacher and a system which, she believes, let her boy down. Her Corryn understands how to play her trump card as the victimized mother, but also reveals an affecting side as someone who hasn’t slept for days and whose self-control is tenuous.
Amanda Huotari plays a relatively new teacher, Heather, a childless refugee from the business world who believes in protecting her students above all else. Huotari is very effective at conveying the struggle of a professional in a difficult situation while simultaneously having a crisis in her own life.
The sparring match between characters with verbal and physical advances, circles and retreats, is present throughout the performance directed by Cait Robinson. The set design by Stacey Koloski, with lighting design by Michaela Wirth and sound design by Keith Powell Beyland, takes the audience into a nicely detailed classroom.
A somewhat incongruous bit of comic relief near the end was welcomed by the audience on Thursday night. But the serious – and very timely – questions raised in this play are what most will likely take home from this latest DRC production.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.