Presented by Bridge Repertory Theater
By Johnna Adams
Directed by Karen MacDonald
Review by Kitty Drexel
Trigger Warnings: Graphic depiction of rape and violence, controversial and political arguments, full-body hugging
“Turn him to any cause of policy,
The Gordian Knot of it he will unloose,
Familiar as his garter”
(Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 1 Scene 1. 45–47)
(Boston) Alexander the Great is famous for marching through Asia and Africa in the name of Greece when he was 18 years old. He was a merciless conqueror and much of his work shaped the known BCE world. According to popular myth, in 333 BCE Alexander was shown a intricate knot in tying a chariot to a pole left by the sloppy founder of the city of Gordium. It was foretold that only the future ruler of Asia could untie the knot. Alexander, being the sensitive and thoughtful boy he wasn’t, instead hacked through the knot with his sword. Earlier versions of the myth imply Alexander first tries cunning to sort out the mess but eventually uses the pointy end of a sword to solve the riddle. These are the origins of the term “cutting the Gordian Knot.” It has come to mean using creative measures (cheating) in order to solve an convoluted problem.
Gideon’s Knot is a fancy play on Gordian’s Knot. In this play by Johnna Adams, mother Corryn visits the classroom of elementary school teacher Heather to discuss why Corryn’s son, Gideon, was suspended for five days. It is revealed that shortly after being suspended for distributing inappropriate creative material in the classroom, Gideon committed suicide. The details of this dense play are revealed at a glacial pace as the two women work through their grief with each other. This show has the audience gripping its seat, eager to learn more even though knowing more means understanding the events less. By the end, both ladies know more about each other and themselves than they ever anticipated from what was supposed to be parent/teacher conference.
Gideon’s Knot is an organized mess that requires the actresses, director Karen MacDonald and the playwright to keep things clear. The labyrinthine plot points are revealed to the audience slowly between discussions of Corryn and Heather’s grief. For legal reasons, Heather can’t divulge classroom or school politics. Corryn is reluctant to discuss herself but speculates wildly about her son. It is about as affecting as watching Memento: you know how it’s going to end but you don’t know why or how it will end that way. What we do have a clues from playwright Adams. Coincidentally, Heather’s class is covering myth, belief and the Gods & Goddesses of Eurasia. The walls, ceiling and floor are covered in projects regarding the current curriculum. Gideon has left clues in his desk. Corryn speaks about his home life. The classroom is the key to figuring out why Gideon died. Unfortunately, this means that the audience isn’t expected to unravel the mystery on its own. Adams feeds us all of the answers even if we don’t know how to interpret them.
Deb Martin (Corryn) and Olivia D’Ambrosio (Heather) give excellent performances. They are two women at odds while keeping perfect pace with each other on the stage. Martin explores the depths of Corryn’s character in manic episodes of grief while D’Ambrosio maintains the stability of their emotional relationship from across the stage. If Martin is the balance in this production; D’Ambrosio is the counterbalance. Their tension can be felt across the room, cut with a knife and buttered on toast. They are aided immensely by the seamless direction of Karen MacDonald.
While this is an excellent performance, the play does focus on some provocative issues. Namely that children are not inherently innocent, that they are capable of great physical and emotional violence regardless of input from adults. This play spins teachers against parents in the raising and educating of children. The argument is made that schools are idiot factories spitting out impotent regurgitators incapable of free thought. The counter-argument is made that some parents aren’t fit to raise children. Gideon’s Knot argues against censorship regardless of age or appropriateness. What it does not do is point blaming fingers at either the family or the educational institution for the death of a child. Whatever your thoughts on the roles of a parent, teacher or child, this production is very much worth attending.