Fit to be tied in Aurora’s powerful, provocative Knot

Feb 07

EXTENDED THROUGH MARCH 9
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Stacy Ross (left) is a fifth-grade teacher and Jamie J. Jones is the mother of a fifth-grade student in Johnna Adams’ Gidion’s Knot, probably the most fraught parent-teacher conference you’ll ever experience. Jon Tracy directs the Aurora Theatre Company production. Photos by David Allen

To call Gidion’s Knot, Johnna Adams’ play now at the Aurora Theatre Company, a mystery is accurate but only to a point. Certainly there are things we don’t know and need to find out, but there’s a whole lot more to this complex, disturbing and even devastating drama.

Looking at Nina Ball’s incredibly realistic fifth-grade classroom set – complete with tiled ceiling and fluorescent lights – it’s easy to think, “A play about a parent-teacher conference in a bright, friendly classroom. How intense could this be?” Oh, it’s intense all right. And surprising and fraught with the kind of societal and personal issues that create gulfs (or build bridges) between people.

Director Jon Tracy is especially adept at re-creating a version of real life for the stage that is unflinching, even if that means it’s sometimes hard to watch. This two-person play is, as you might expect of Tracy, so finely calibrated that there’s hardly a pause or a body movement that doesn’t feel at once natural or directly part of the playwright’s vision.

Tracy’s actors pull this off with incredible skill and emotion. Stacy Ross is the teacher, Heather, and Jamie J. Jones is the mom, Corryn. The topic at hand is Corryn’s son, Gidion, who has been suspended. Just why he was so severely disciplined and why this particular conference is so very intense is all part of the mystery and the dramatic motor of the play.

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And though hot-button issues like cyber-bullying and free speech arise, there’s something deeper happening, and it has to do with people who have very different viewpoints about life. It also has to do with core human qualities such as compassion, kindness and hostility. How do people deal with each other, person to person, personally or professionally, when their views of life are so fundamentally opposed?

Neither of these characters is exactly what you’d expect, although you probably know people like them. Heather is brittle, beleaguered and deeply invested in her students. Corryn is brash and honest, which can have the effect of making her unlikable. She’s the kind of person who asks a question and makes you guess at the answer. When you do hazard a guess, she guffaws at the sheer stupidity of your guess. Not so likable, but as she freely admits, she’s been up for 72 hours.

Whatever impression you have of either woman is likely to change – several times – over the course of this provocative play’s 75 minutes. You know it’s 75 minutes because there’s a clock over the classroom door (the same door through which you hear the bustle and see the shadows of the students going by when the bell rings), and the play spins out, sometimes agonizingly, in real time.

There’s some rough stuff in this play – one patch is so rough, in fact, it’s hard not to look around the intimate confines of the Aurora to assess how your fellow theatergoers are taking it all – but playwright Adams isn’t interested in the sensational here. Like Corryn, she’s more interested in honesty, even if it’s uncomfortable or unpleasant.

Gidion’s Knot is a hell of a tangle, and it’s somehow more than a play. It’s an extraordinary experience.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Johnna Adams’ Gidion’s Knot continues an extended run through March 9 at the Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $32-$50. Call 510-843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org.

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