Johnna Adams’ Gidion’s Knot has all the makings of an ideal InterAct Theatre Company play: meaty discussion, complex issues and no easy resolutions.
Karen Peakes is emotionally raw as fifth-grade teacher Ms. Clark, who suspended student Gidion the Friday before. Colin McIlvaine’s classroom set suggests warmth, comfort and safety, but on this Monday, Ms. Clark is shattered. She’s surprised by Gidion’s mother, Corryn (Alice Gatling, balancing grief and outrage), who kept an appointment to discuss Gidion’s offense despite the boy’s death that Friday night. A wall clock ticks off the seconds as the action unfolds in real time.
Adams and director Seth Rozin build suspense skillfully. Two-person plays rely on tension built by withholding revelations. Here, a few backfire: The issue of the principal’s arrival, for instance, is rendered moot by the two-person cast, and a pattern of not answering a question until it’s asked 10 times becomes tedious in this 75-minute play. “What the hell happened?” is our question as much as Corryn’s.
The fascinating details, finally explained, are stunning, vivid and eerily beautiful. When does creative expression cross the line in a classroom? Who draws that line? How much can, and should, teachers oversee relationships between students? Can teachers serve all students equally?
Adams loads the play with a few too many surprises, like a twist concerning the 10-year-old boy’s sexuality, while InterAct’s casting adds a juicy subtextual race issue. The performers’ sincerity overcomes the script’s traps, creating believably flawed characters. Peakes and Gatling break — and mend — in surprising and genuine ways, just when it seems impossible for either to understand the other. No one’s afraid of the awkward silences the script demands, and that tension has a visceral effect. When the play ends, we’re suddenly able to breathe again, but Gidion’s Knot haunts for days after.
Through Feb. 9, $32-$38, Adrienne Theater, 2030 Sansom St., 215-568-8079, interacttheatre.org.
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