Gidion's Knot
Corryn (r. Jamie Jones) confronts Heather (l. Stacy Ross) about the contents of a note passed to her son, Gidion, in class in Gidion’s Knot. Photo: David Allen

Gidion’s Knot, Johnna Adams’ astonishing two-character play rivets the audience as it explores vital societal issues — children’s free expression and its limits, cyber-bullying and parental versus society’s rights.

As you enter the theatre, you find yourself in a typical 5th grade classroom, complete in every detail, thanks to set designer Nina Ball, including the school desks, the fluorescent light fixtures and the clock on the wall that continues to work throughout the play’s eighty minutes. Heather, a teacher with two years of experience, sits at her desk with her head down, grading papers and checking her cellphone.

After several minutes, Corryn enters the classroom for a scheduled parent-teacher conference to discuss why her son, Gidion, has been suspended from school. Yet Heather is shocked that Corryn has kept the appointment.

Gidion's Knot
Corryn (front, Jamie Jones) reads Gidion’s story as Heather (back, Stacy Ross) looks on in Gidion’s Knot. Photo: David Allen

Then a difficult, unnerving, yet fascinating, exchange between the two characters begins. Corryn, skillfully played by Jamie Jones, is a professor of Medieval English literature, is older and outwardly more forceful, yet internally, more fragile than Heather. She tends to dominate the discussion while the talented Stacy Ross’s Heather retreats. Corryn seems easier to understand. Heather, on the other hand, is more opaque and her motives are unclear.

We realize that Heather is sometimes misleading Corryn. Perhaps she is more devious than she appears. Heather knows whether the school principal will be joining the parent-teacher conference. Yet, she dissembles to Corryn. If we view the principal as Beckett’s Godot, it is easy to understand the ways in which the delayed appearance of the school principal adds to the suspense of the play.

Also adding to the tension in Gidion’s Knot, are the long pauses that permeate the conversation. Director Jon Tracy has turned the uncomfortable silences into communication more meaningful than discourse. The silences add a Mamet-like realism to the language and to the drama.

Gidion’s Knot is something of a mystery, in which important plot points are revealed slowly. So no spoilers here. The general subject matter is not confidential, however. Corryn and Heather have divergent views of the boundaries of students’ right to free expression, particularly when that expression contains aggressive or violent imagery.

Corryn is concerned only with her son’s creative freedom. She finds nobility in ancient and medieval poetry and tales of warrior kings, despite their violence. She mentions “The Poems of Ossian,” allegedly a primitive and ancient Erse or Gaelic work that was authored, edited or forged by James Macpherson (1736-1796). The true authorship of “The Poems of Ossian” is a controversy familiar only to students and professors of 18th-century English literature, but it lends insight into Corryn’s frame of reference.

Conversely, Heather is less intellectual than Corryn, and is concerned about the emotional health and safety of all her students. She must answer to parents, principals and school boards, so Heather’s attitude tends to be protective of herself as well as her pupils. The two also have similarly opposing views about protecting the innocence of children and the responsibility for preventing or stopping bullying and cyber-bullying.

During their confrontation, both women reveal themselves in unexpected ways. There can be no meeting of the minds or conclusion to their conflict, given that their emotions, backgrounds, interests and obligations are at odds.

Don’t miss Gidion’s Knot. This powerful drama will make viewers uncomfortable; in fact, it compels the audience to join the emotional rollercoaster ride with Corryn and Heather and to feel its after-effects.

Gidion’s Knot is playing at the Aurora Theatre through March 9, 2014. For information and tickets, visit Aurora Theatre online.

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Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...