“Gidion’s Knot”At STLAS Brings Tragedy, Anger And Emotions To The Forefront

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Laurie McConnell as Heather and Elizabeth Ann Townsend as Corryn in “Gidion’s Knot” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: John Lamb

A tragedy surrounding the suicide of a 5th grader tries to get at the core of what happened and who’s to blame in a searing 70-minute drama that unfolds at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. “Gidion’s Knot” forces a nervous teacher to confront the boy’s mother as she shows up unexpectedly to find out just what went wrong to lead her son to this heinous act.

After a bit of embarrassing shuffling and hesitant restraint, the teacher, Heather, tries to explain why she did not expect the mother to show up for the scheduled parent/teacher night as this tragedy happened soon after the meeting had been set up. The mother, Corryn, is looking for some sort of closure from this part of her son’s life and seeks answers to his demeanor, friendships and work habits at the school. It’s as awkward for the audience as it is for Heather as she tries to calmly relate as much information as she can to a mother who is both reflective and aggressive as the meeting plays out. The title is a play on the old Gordian Knot myth about trying to solve a problem that is unsolvable. The son, Gidion, becomes that knot that can’t be untied- we probably can never explain his actions.

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Laurie McConnell and Elizabeth Ann Townsend in the STLAS production of “Gidion’s Knot.” Photo: John Lamb

Laurie McConnell is nothing short of brilliant as the teacher as she tries to remain collected as the badgering and often accusatory demeanor of the mother. You can see the pain on her face and in her body language as this is probably the most difficult encounter she’s ever experienced in her short two year teaching career. As the mother, Elizabeth Ann Townsend also shines as she digs into her son’s life and schoolwork. Her unexpected reaction to a horrific story her son has written (which she insists Heather read aloud to her) is chilling to the audience but apparently cathartic for her.

There is no easy way to resolve the dilemma in such a situation- the only thing the mother can do is delve into her son’s life at school and try to make some sense of it all. Heather becomes almost a buffer to her pain after she experiences the initial discomfort but soon gets into a rhythm of trying, as best she can, to allieve some of the mother’s pain and find some common ground to accept the tragedy.

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Elizabeth Ann Townsend and Laurie McConnell in “Gidion’s Knot” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: John Lamb

Director Lee Anne Mathews has tackled the difficult script with sensitivity and a subdued confrontational approach. It works well in easing the audience into this slippery subject matter and gives the proper amount of tension on stage. Playwright Johanna Adams has fashioned a difficult script that opens a lot of conversation about a problem that is all too often ignored- the high suicide rate among younger people. Christie Johnston’s set design is a wonderful representation of a 5th grade classroom and Dalton Robison’s lights are simple and functional. Carla Landis Evans has brought a solid contrast to the character’s differences through her costumes.

This has been a tough week-end of theatre with the volatile “Disgraced” at the Rep and then this absorbing but disturbing “Gidion’s Knot” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Catch
“Gidion’s Knot” at STLAS through February 28th.

 

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