Be prepared to do a double take when you walk into Gidion’s Knot, which just opened at the Aurora in Berkeley. I’d just come from the school where I work and for all intents and purposes, it was as if I’d never left. Set designer Nina Ball outdid herself in creating a picture perfect sixth grade classroom, down to the drop ceiling and ancient world social studies posters on the wall. The classroom wall clock faced the audience and you’ll find yourself watching it as intently as you watched the clock back in grade school.
The clock watching isn’t to suggest that this work, written by Johnna Adams and directed by Jon Tracy, drags. This two-woman show, with Jamie J. Jones, as mom Corryn, and fifth grade teacher, Stacy Ross, is packed with intensity and suspense. Silence and missed connections are used intentionally, such as the long minutes ticking by at the outset as we watch Ross distractedly doing paperwork. The energy mounts, as you wait for something to happen, almost as in Beckett. Why is the teacher distracted? Where’s the freaking principal? Why are we stuck in the darn parent-teacher conference? Why did Gidion get suspended? Unlike Beckett, here the playwright does give it up and your questions get answered, albeit in ways that you’d never anticipate.
I suspect audience members will come down hard on either side when weighing this work – and they’ll both be equally correct. This isn’t a play for everyone, permeated as it is in a disquieting unease. The abruptness and intensity of the dialogue unnerve. Those who invest the time and emotion in this will be richly rewarded, pondering questions they may have never occurred to ask. Others will echo a line offered up by Jones: “How much more depressing is this conversation going to get?” Both responses are equally valid.
One inconsistency nagged at me throughout this production, which I’m sure would nag at any parent or educator. The script specifically stated that this was a fifth grade classroom – and yet the social studies curriculum on the wall belonged to the sixth grade ancient world curriculum.
This is a smart script, playing off of everything from Seneca to Gordian knots to poems of Ossian.
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This is a smart script, playing off of everything from Seneca to Gordian knots to poems of Ossian. Jones and Ross both give splendid performances. More than all of that, however, its heart lies in parental love, the only real free lunch around. It’s well worth taking in.
Gidion’s Knot runs at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley through March 2nd.