Stunning, Tense Play at South of Broadway

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Gidions-knot-image_5inTHERE IS AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT happening in North Charleston, and if you are even nominally interested in viewing the best of what live theater offers, you owe it to yourself to get to South of Broadway Theatre Company.

Located on East Montague in the recently ramped-up blocks just beyond Park Circle, South of Broadway has mounted a stunning production of Johnna Adams’ “Gidion’s Knot.” The one-hour tour de force features two unusually gifted actors in a drama that could not be more timely nor better written.

Mark Gorman sublimely directs Kristen Kos as Heather Clark, a fifth grade teacher in a public school in the Lake Forest suburb of Chicago, and Lynda Harvey-Carter as Corryn Fell, the mother of Gidion, one of Clark’s students. To Ms. Clark’s clear surprise, Ms. Fell appears at the end of the school day to keep the appointment for a parent-teacher conference she was asked to make, and duly scheduled, as Gidion had been suspended for five days the Friday before.

Sounds like pretty tame stuff, huh? From the opening silent moments, when Clark is obsessively checking her cell phone before Fell enters, the atmosphere is rife with tension and a kind of apprehension. There is no music, no dialogue, no grand action: The aura is created purely through Kos’ ability to engage the audience in her own angst.

When Mom enters, talking virtually non-stop and scurrying about the stage in an apparent dither, our slim, self-contained teacher is demonstrably non-plussed. Immediately, we know there is something wrong. Without ever stating the reason explicitly, the two women face each other in a duel of words that portends tragedy. We know.

Through a series of verbal thrusts and parries, with Mom insisting that the appointment be kept, and her son’s distressed teacher trying to maintain control and understand what needs to happen here, the words are finally spoken: Gidion is dead. Does Mom not know this? Is she in a state of utter denial? Has she experienced the kind of meltdown that renders us psychotic for a time?

The degree of fear and confusion is slowly, irrevocably tuned to a fever pitch, with an understandably distraught mother skillfully leveling more and more inappropriate questions at Clark. Their emotional discourse betrays more and more of the conflicting personalities and beliefs of these two women. Clark, who ultimately surrenders to Mom’s demands that the principal join them, leaves the room to telephone the principal whom Clark said had taken a personal day and was not at school. She would arrive in about fifteen minutes.

As a career classroom teacher, I quail for Clark, who desperately needs not only an ally, but a witness. Ambushed in her own classroom, Clark knows that she is vulnerable, that anything and everything she says could  lead to the loss of her job and very possibly a lawsuit. It has happened—and is happening more and more frequently. I am silently yelling, “Don’t say another word! You will be held liable! You are in more danger than you can imagine! Wait for the principal!”

But Clark feels she can help this tortured mother; indeed, has a duty to explain the circumstances surrounding the suspension. Bombarded by Fell’s unstoppable barrage, little by little Clark loses her presence of mind, her cool demeanor, her hard-won professionalism, and reveals only too much of a delicate situation involving other children. In so doing, she is also trying to justify her own actions, to Gidion’s mother as well as herself.

In a moving dénouement, we learn why Clark was already in a highly charged state as Gidion’s mother offers advice and sympathy.

This perfectly executed drama should be required viewing for every educator and every parent. Be sure you catch one of the final three performances this week-end.

Note: this production includes adult themes and content.

Learn more about South of Broadway Theatre Company.

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It is with life as it is with art: the deeper one penetrates, the broader the view.                   
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