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Great theater tests the limits of its audience and doesn’t shy away from exploring sensitive, uncomfortable scenarios. There are plays, however, that amount to little more than relentless button-pushing under the guise of serious drama. Gidion’s Knot, which opens the season at Curio Theatre Company, falls into the latter category.
Written by Johnna Adams in 2012, Gidion’s Knot has been steadily making the regional-theater rounds for a decade. (InterAct Theatre Company produced it locally in 2014.) Its appeal is easily understandable: it requires just two actors and a single set, and it unspools in real time over 70 tight minutes. It also considers serious topics with a patina of meaningful engagement.
Deserving of clarity and care
The setting is a tense parent-teacher conference between Corryn (Trice Baldwin-Browns), a sardonic professor whose son Gidion has recently gotten suspended, and Heather (Tessa Kuhn), a caring but inexperienced teacher who sees signs of distress in the boy. Corryn blazes through the interaction with the force of a hurricane, belittling Heather’s credentials, educational philosophy, and former career as a marketing executive. In turn, Heather subtly suggests Corryn’s parental worldview might have obfuscated Gidion’s true nature.
Adams works to build suspense into this encounter, but there’s a clear sense that something’s amiss, and a revelation quickly follows. The show folds considerations of grief and missed warning signs into discussions of pedagogy, praxis, and childhood behavior. These are important subjects that deserve to be handled with clarity and care.
Yet the script itself lacks the depth to give the matter its full due. Too often, it feels like a very special episode of daytime television, with canned platitudes, soundbites, and easily telegraphed resolutions. Adams writes in a punchy style that lingers on linguistic cleverness without mining the complexity of her characters’ situations. Neither Corryn’s blustery bravado or Heather’s aching sadness seems especially genuine—but neither does the playwright explore how these personalities might mask their true emotions.
An invested production
Despite the flimsiness of the material, Curio invests significant resources into its production, and delivers a staging with a usually high standard. The company has moved from a larger performance space on the ground floor of the Calvary Center to a compact black-box theater in the basement, which set designer Paul Kuhn has transformed into a convincingly detailed fifth-grade classroom. Costume designer Aetna Gallagher communicates the small differences in class status and style between the two women through their apparel.
Director Gay Carducci keeps the action moving briskly, which works to obscure some of the script’s deficits: as it hurtles quickly toward its denouement, there is often not enough time to linger in plot holes. And for their part, the actors invest their strawman characters with genuine feeling and emotion. Baldwin-Browns brings a reasonable intensity to a woman whose world has been cracked open in a split-second. Kuhn is warm and sympathetic in an underwritten role.
The play’s title refers implicitly to a Gordian Knot, a metaphor for a multifaceted problem not easily solved. The subject matter on hand certainly falls within those parameters, but in Gidion’s Knot, it unfolds as cleanly as straight rope.
Know Before You Go: Gidion’s Knot contains references to suicide and self-harm that might be disturbing to some viewers. Following all Thursday evening and Saturday matinee performances during the play’s run, Curio will host post-show discussions with mental health professionals from the Phoenix Center for Experiential Trauma Therapy.
What, When, Where
Gidion’s Knot. By Johnna Adams, directed by Gay Carducci. $20-$30 (50 percent discount available for teachers). Through November 19, 2022, at Curio Theatre Company at the Calvary Center, 4740 Baltimore Avenue, Philadelphia. (215) 921-8243 or curiotheatre.org.
Masks are required during the performance.
An accessibility lift to Curio’s performance space is available. Patrons with specific questions regarding wheelchair accessibility may contact [email protected].
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