Saturday, April 05, 2014

GIDION'S KNOT @ none too fragile theater

Last year, none too fragile theater’s ON THE LINE was honored by the Cleveland Critics Circle as being the “Best Non-Musical Production of 1913.”  Their production of GIDION’S KNOT establishes itself as a candidate for the award this year!

Johnna Adams’ brilliantly written script, given a superb production, is riveting, disturbing, and emotionally wrenching.  Ironically, it is also funny at times.   Yes, sometimes you have to laugh through your tears.  Adams knows this and gives the needed moments of catharsis so as not to make the experience more than the audience members can emotionally bear.

Usually on the ride home after leaving a theatre, my wife and I have a lively discussion about the play we have just seen.  On the way home from GIDION’S KNOT, we sat in silence.  We were both in an emotional after-shock.  Talking would have taken us out of the mood. 

As I sit here writing this review, 12 hours after experiencing the production, I can still hear the lines and visualize its physical images.   The angst remains within.

The play’s title is an allusion to the legend of the Gordian Knot, in which Alexander the Great was challenged with the task of untying an intricate knot created by King Gorgius.  In modern terms, it relates to the question of how to deal with a complicated seemingly insoluble problem. 

Adams could not have picked a more perfect take-off on that legend as a title.  There is no way to untie, unknot the tale about Gidion and his complex problem and the resulting issues.

I can’t explain the story or my thoughts about it.  That would untie the knot for me, not for you.  It’s an unfair burden and for me to undertake.

On the surface, this is a telling of a meeting between an elementary school teacher and the mother of a young boy, Gidion, who has just committed suicide.  In reality, it is a series of questions: Is the disturbing story the boy wrote as a homework assignment that of an imaginative writer, an Edgar Allen Poe, or the exposition of a disturbed child who may some day turn out to be a mass murderer like Seugn-Hui Cho, who wrote murderous fantasies before shooting thirty-two people at Virginia Tech?

It further probes:  What are the responsibilities of schools regarding a student?  Should a teacher, or society, impose its ethical rules on others?  What is the “right” way to grieve? When does the fear of a law suit override the responsibilities of leadership?  Are we responsible for the way our actions affect others?  How do we recognize depression in others?  Should it be the child's, the mother's, or the teacher's perspective, that influences and informs the narrative for the child’s life?

The play offers no answers, it just lays bare the issues.  This may disturb those that want clear cut answers.  But, in reality, life doesn’t always offer clear cut answers.  In fact, the process of life usually provides more paths to inquiry.  The author wisely realizes this conundrum and leaves it to each person to untie the knot of her characters lives, if s/he desires, and has the psychological desires and abilities to attempt the task.

The none too fragile’s production, under the precise and insightful direction by Sean Derry, is spell-binding.  It is exquisitely paced, the actors develop real emotionally fragile people.  No acting here.  Each lives the character, leaving no doubt of the reality of the situation and internal chaos.  Nothing gets in the way of the well-crafted play.  Nothing gets in the way of getting the audience involved in the cerebral, yet emotional sense of the author.

Jen Klika is superlative as Corryn, the grieving mother.  This is performing at its highest level.  She rides the roller coaster of emotions with perfection, controlling the normal tendency of yelling to show strong emotions.  She uses pauses, stress highlighting, and nonverbal signs to convey Corryn’s deep hurt, guilt and chaos.

Alanna Romansky as Heather, the teacher, creates a multi-leveled woman whose own questions, doubts and insecurities become clearly evident.  At times her projection falls off, making her hard to hear, but these lapses of dialogue actually intensify Heather’s angst and choked up conflicted feelings.  Her final scene is wrenching.

This is among the saddest and thought-provoking plays I’ve ever seen.  It exposes so many raw nerves.  It seems ironic, but the experience was so perfect that  I would not want to see the play again because I don’t want to disturb the image, the keen emotional reaction of this experience.

I would ask the director to consider not having a curtain call, but letting the audience sit in the dark for a short period after the final line, so they can get the full impact of the play.  I was brought out of the emotional mood too quickly by the lights flashing on.  Yes, the actors should be recognized for their brilliant performances, but the deep silence would serve that purpose, and a gradual bringing up of the lights to indicate the play was over, would help cement the experience.

Capsule judgement:  If it is the purpose of theatre to have a life-awakening experience and to get the audience so emotionally involved that they forget they are in a theatre, then none too fragile’s GIDION’S KNOT fully fulfills that goal!   This is theatre at its finest and is an absolute MUST see.  Please avail yourself of the wonder of this  fine theatrical offering!  Bravo!

GIDION’S KNOT runs through  April 19, 2014 at none too fragile theater which is located in Bricco’s Restaurant, 1841 Merriman Road, Akron.  Use the free valet parking, as car space is limited.  For tickets call 330-671-4563 or go to