By Manning Harris
Pinch ‘N’ Ouch Theatre is currently presenting the regional premiere of a play called “Gidion’s Knot,” by Johnna Adams, directed by Hillary Heath. It will run through March 26.
Last summer Pinch ‘N’ Ouch produced Pulitzer winner Annie Baker’s “The Aliens,” which I believe I called the most charming, compassionate, and evocative play yet performed by this company. I must say that “Gidion’s Knot” is a far cry from that production, in acting, directing, and writing.
We’re presented with an elementary school classroom, in which Heather (Vanessa Aranegui), a second-year 6th grade teacher, is glumly tidying up after a long day. She’s depressed because one of her students, Gidion, has just committed suicide, after he was suspended from school.
Then Corryn (Monique Grant), Gidion’s mother, appears, determined to have a parent-teacher conference that was scheduled before her son’s death.
Heather is nonplussed; it had never occurred to her that the mother would want to have this meeting almost immediately after Gidion’s death. “Why wouldn’t I?” she says. “He was my son.” Thus begins a very tense 75-minute meeting (and that’s the entire play, no intermission).
Heather tries to put Corryn off, saying the principal was supposed to be present. But the principal is nowhere to be found, and Corryn is insistent.
The two women begin a verbal sparring match with Corryn accusatory and aggressive; and Heather intimidated and cloying, and trying to keep her head above water against Corryn’s relentless insinuation. By the way, she’s a college professor and seems quite condescending in her view of “lower schools” and of Heather in particular.
Of course one would think that an audience’s sympathy would be toward a mother who has just lost her child, perhaps life’s greatest and most painful loss. But Corryn, as played by Ms. Grant, makes that almost impossible. Of course, we know that anger can certainly be a disguise for real grief, and that’s probably the case here. But it seems that both women are doing their best to defer culpability.
And there are so many unanswered questions: Was Gidion being bullied? Or was he the bully? Did Jake, his best friend, betray him? Or was Jake really his friend at all? The playwright toys with us here, and the effect is both unsatisfying and unbelievable.
Finally, it comes down to the vulgar, violent, searing story that Gidion wrote and got him suspended (he shared it in school). Corryn says it’s too painful for her to look at her son’s handwriting so she insists that Heather read the story, out loud, to her—and the audience. It’s quite hideous, and seems interminable.But Corryn seems relieved and says her son was an artist. And had Heather never heard of the Marquis de Sade?
In the hands of another director and actor, Corryn, a grieving mother, would be moving through all kinds of feelings. Instead, she’s deadeningly one note: surly aggression. Ms. Aranegui’s Heather looks like she was invited to the wrong party and is very unhappy about it.
I think we’ve all been invited to the wrong party: Virtually every aspect of “Gidion’s Knot,”– writing, acting, and directing—seems unfinished. There’s a last minute attempt at comic relief, but it comes way too late.
For tickets and information, visit pnotheatre.org.