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A CurtainUp Review
Gidion's Knot

"You sent a note home with my son. And left a message. Asking to meet with me. How could I not come?".— Corryn
Gidion's Knot
L-R: Karen Leiner and Dara O'Brien (Photo by Carol Rosegg)
According to Greek legend the Gordion Knot was tied by Gordius, a legendary king of Phrygia, and was to be undone only by the person who would rule Asia. That person turned out to be Alexander the Great, who was unable to untie the knot but achieved the same ends by cutting it with his sword. Today the term has come to mean any intricate, seemingly insoluble problem. This, one assumes, is what Johnna Adams is referring to in Gidion's Knot.

The play is currently on stage at 59E59 Theaters, directed by Austin Pendleton. It features Dara O'Brien as a fifth grade teacher named Heather, and Karen Leiner as Corryn, the mother of one of Heather's students. It is only 85 minutes long and consists entirely of a conversation between the distressed parent and the equally distressed, but also defensive, teacher.

Corryn has come to school because she received a note informing her that her son has been suspended. It's immediately obvious Corryn is troubled by much more than that. But what is it? Adams takes her time with this (and other) revelations, so that it is not until several minutes into the conversation that the audience learns Gidion is dead, and even later that he has committed suicide. As for Heather, it's only at the end of the play we discover her anxiety is not totally about her dead student.

The Gordion Knot the two women are trying to untie involves the reasons for Gidion's actions and the assignment of guilt. But Adams takes so much time telling her simple story that the real knot is mostly a creation of the author. When playwrights deliberately hide the truth, the final revelation must be pretty big. We explore overwhelming possibilities: Did the teacher molest the child? Did the parent molest the child? Was the child tortured by another student? When, as in Gidion's Knot, the truth proves to be more mundane we are disappointed.

Although Pendleton makes a great effort to move the two ladies around the classroom (sometimes for no apparent reason), nothing interesting happens on stage. The play is made up of a conflict with no resolution and nothing at stake. The boy has killed himself for reasons the play is never able to make clear. Does it matter which woman's version of what happened is true?

What's more, Gidion's Knot asks the audience to believe that Gideon would have been suspended for a very silly reason (he would much more likely have been referred to the school psychiatrist), a parent would come to school for a conference about her son who just killed himself and a teacher would agree to, or be permitted to speak with said parent. Nonetheless, O'Brien is particularly believable as a teacher trying to protect herself without further wounding a confrontational parent. Leiner seems more angry than grieving and entirely too concerned with being clever, but much of her problem lies in the dialogue she was given.

By the end of the play we know a lot about these two woman, but not too much about the dead boy. The knot has not been untied.

Gidion's Knot
By Johnna Adams
Directed by Austin Pendleton
Cast: Karen Leiner (Corryn), Dara O'Brien (Heather)
Scenic Designer: Stephen Karoly Dobay
Costume Designer: Kathleen Doyle
Lighting Designer: Ryan Metzler
Sound Designer: Ryan Rumery
Production Stage Manager: Kathryn "China" Hazer
Running Time: 85 minutes
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59 Street between Park and Madison
From 2/20/14; opening 2/26/14; closing 3/9/14
Tuesday - Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday & Saturday at 8:30pm, Sunday at 1:30pm
Tickets: $18 ($12.50 for 59E59 members) (212) 279-4200
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Feb. 25, 2014
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