Theater review: 'Gidion's Knot' intense and captivating

Posted: January 25, 2014

If an 11-year old Stephen King (or Edgar Allan Poe) had written child versions of their adult horrors for grade-school assignments, they'd no doubt receive suspensions, if not arrests, in today's educational climate. Especially if a classmate died as a result.

This idea - and the debate about childhood innocence - lies at the heart of Interact's intense, captivating production of Johnna Adams' Gidion's Knot.

It's fair game, after all; little boys have recently gotten expelled, sued, or arrested for kissing girls on the cheek, calling names, and making the shape of a gun with their fingers.

In Adams' script, one such little boy has died. His mother, Corryn (Alice Gatling), wants to know why. Three days after the boy's death, Corryn confronts Heather Clark (Karen Peakes), the dead boy's teacher, looking for answers in the classroom where her somewhat macabre son was bullied and had his imagination stifled.

Her search for facts explodes into an intellectual battle over seeing childhood as a "suspended state of innocence" or a daily battle to civilize barely concealed little monsters (of mythology and, more recently, the fiction of William Golding and Donna Tartt).

Today, we argue this issue in courtrooms, school board meetings, and policy debates. At Interact, director Seth Rozin displays what his company does best: embodying the entirety of societal conflict in a riveting battle between two individuals - neither one wholly good or bad, neither totally deserving of blame, and both seeking justice and the affirmation of rightness for their side.

That said, I didn't like the script, which offers multiple reasons to disbelieve the identities and motivations of both characters. Adams also overreaches in her 75-minute drama, extending beyond the debate over childhood into the accompanying educational policies and civil-liberties trade-offs, not to mention issues of race, social media, single motherhood, childhood sexuality, and the nature of compassion and cowardice.

Is it too much to touch in such a short show? Maybe, but under Rozin's direction and in the powerful portrayals by Gatling and Peakes, the staging doesn't lose sight of its central issue: A child has died. Someone's to blame. And there's no escaping the impact of that tragedy.


Gidion's Knot

Presented through Feb. 9 at the Main Stage of the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St. Tickets: $25 to $38. Information: 215-568-8079 or interacttheatre.org.

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