The air is charged with pain, guilt and accusations in the electric Gidion's Knot, a two-woman show at None Too Fragile Theater.
The brilliantly titled, beautifully written play, penned by Johnna Adams, dramatizes an emotionally devastating, tension-filled meeting between fifth-grade teacher Heather and Corryn, mother of an 11-year-old named Gidion. This isn't your usual parent-teacher conference, though, because Gidion has committed suicide three days earlier.
As the grieving Corryn, actress Jen Klika cuts a deeply sorrowful yet forceful, highly intelligent character. She utilizes all of her faculties to try to force the reluctant Heather (Alanna Romansky) to divulge the events leading up to her son taking his own life.
Romansky's frosty character immediately tries to distance herself from discussing the tragedy. But the meeting is nevertheless fraught with confrontation.
These actresses had me in the palm of their hands as this nail-biter, set in a classroom full of desks and books, slowly unfolded. As Klika's Corryn egged Heather on in an effort to get some answers, the suspense continued to grow throughout this 90-minute, intermissionless play opening night.
Both the mother and the teacher want to be able to fix blame on one culprit. But there are no easy, clear-cut answers to why Corryn's son committed suicide.
The show's title, which alludes to a Gordian Knot, symbolizes the attempt to solve an unsolvable problem. Does one try to unravel the knot or take the easy way out by cutting it? The title symbolizes both the characters' impossible search for simple answers in the aftermath of a boy's suicide and quite possibly educators' extreme reactions toward and zero-tolerance discipline of children who even think outside of social norms.
As the two women clash, playwright Adams raises questions about freedom of speech, bullying, parental values and assumptions people make about others. It also delves into ideas concerning misunderstood genius and the disturbing nature of some of the world's finest literature.
Despite the disturbing subject matter, Klika, especially, brings some humor and sarcasm to her role as the grieving mother. Romansky adds her own measure of perversity to this story when her character finally lets down her guard and shows a flood of emotion. Yet under Sean Derry's direction, Romansky never quite lets on in her tricky role how much Heather is actually grieving for her student.
Gidion's Knot asks so many more questions than it answers. Did Gidion's mother fail him as a parent? Did his teacher stifle his creativity and unfairly condemn him? Was Gidion being bullied or did he himself display abusive behavior? Or, as his mother hopes, was one of his final messages to the world a noble one?
The layers to this story seem as endless as the symbolic Gordian Knot seen on one of the set's classroom display boards.
In a curtain speech, Derry spoke about the name of his young company, which reflects its mission to produce moving theater. ‘‘You can't be too fragile,’’ he said. Kudos to the theater for producing the eloquent Gidion's Knot, a sensitively performed, deeply affecting piece.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com.