Gidion's Knot Is a Rare Misfire for St. Louis Actors’ Studio 

click to enlarge Heather (Laurie McConnell) and Corryn (Elizabeth Ann Townsend) discuss Gidion's problems.

PHOTO BY JOHN LAMB

Heather (Laurie McConnell) and Corryn (Elizabeth Ann Townsend) discuss Gidion's problems.

You know you're in for a rough night at the theater when the play is about suicide. Make the suicide a child and you're really in for it.

Johanna Adams' two-woman drama Gidion's Knot, which is currently being mounted by St. Louis Actors' Studio, runs headlong into the misery of dead kids with a misguided enthusiasm that is exhausting. I blame the script, which groans under a heavy load of symbolism and portentous dialogue.

Heather (Laurie McConnell) is a teacher who is surprised when Corryn (Elizabeth Ann Townsend) shows up for a parent-teacher conference, mostly because it is Corryn's son Gidion who recently killed himself. Their early, uneasy moments are well-played by both actors. Heather is timid and elusive, refusing to discuss anything without the principal present. Corryn is loud and domineering, forcing Heather to talk about Gidion and even getting her to admit that he wasn't one of her favorites.

This battle of wills continues throughout the play, as Corryn tries to understand why she’d been summoned for a conference with Gidion’s teacher in the first place, and why Heather won't just tell her. There is the obvious talk of possible bullying, news of a mysterious fight that resulted in Gidion's bloody nose, and Corryn's stated belief that dead children are the key to social change, all in a classroom with color pictures of Greek and Indian gods on one wall and numerous student projects hanging behind the desk (a very nice set by designer Cristie Johnston). At the front of the stage, a bulky tangle of rope with a cardboard sword jammed through it depicts the famous Gordian knot, the insolvable puzzle Alexander the Great solved by slicing apart with his sword. Which of these women will slice through Gidion's knot and solve the mystery of why he killed himself? It's an on-the-nose metaphor quickly trumped by the revelation that Corryn is a literature professor specializing in epic poetry from the heroic age. Surely an epic poem is in the offing.

It is. Gidion had been suspended from school for something he wrote. Corryn forces Heather to read aloud his story of rape, murder and slavery, a nasty tale that takes several minutes to work through. The well-dressed woman in front of me buried her face in her hands until it was over; she was visibly shaken by it. I've stood in the pit at a Slayer show, and I found it a bit much myself. But when it's finally over, Corryn strokes Gidion's desk lovingly and declares him to be a "poet."

It's at this point that we swing all the way around from grand guignol to bathos, with one more death in the offing. And what have we learned? A mother will always see the best in her child. Childhood is fraught with perils so numerous that no parent can forestall them all. Suicide destroys the living as much as it does the dead. There is nothing new here, nothing worth sitting through 70 minutes of Gidion's Knot. Hey, look — I solved it.


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