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Gidion’s Knot
by Johnna Adams

Directed by Lee Anne Matthews
St. Louis Actors’ Studio
February 13, 2016

Elizabeth Ann Townsend, Laurie McConnell Photo by John Lamb St. Louis Actors' Studio

Laurie McConnell, Elizabeth Ann Townsend
Photo by John Lamb

St. Louis Actors’ Studio

Gidion’s Knot is a short play. Its running time is only a little over an hour, but it says a lot in that deceptively brief period. At St. Louis Actors’ Studio, this complex character study is portrayed with intense emotion and power by its two perfectly cast leads. It’s not an easy play to watch at times, but it’s well-written, sharply staged, and excellently acted.

This is a play with two characters in a seemingly everyday situation that proves to be anything but ordinary. In a well-kept, brightly decorated classroom impressively realized by set designer Cristie Johnston, we first see 5th grade teacher Heather (Laurie McConnell) seated at her desk looking somewhat preoccupied. Soon, she is joined by Corryn (Elizabeth Ann Townsend), the mother of one of Heather’s students, a boy named Gidion who had been suspended from school for reasons that haven’t been fully explained. Heather is at first reluctant to talk to Corryn for reasons that I can’t really describe as they would give too much away. Corryn is persistent and determined, though, and eventually draws Heather into a detailed discussion that reveals disturbing truths about both women, Gidion, and the events that preceded and followed Gidion’s suspension. There’s some provocative subject matter here, including some of Gidion’s writings that Heather reads and to which Corryn reacts. The tales are not easy to listen to, but they manage to present a vivid picture of this fully realized character who never actually appears on stage.

There’s so much here in so little time, but unfortunately I can’t talk about most of it since the slow reveal of information provides much of the drama in this expertly crafted play.  The central performances are unforgettable and profoundly real. I believe everything about them, from Heather’s reticence and background, to Corryn’s occupation and motivation, as well as her reactions to the information she learns about Gidion and Heather’s handling of the situation. Both McConnell and Townsend give extraordinary, intense and nuanced performances that drive the drama of this play. Some important and disturbing questions are raised, challenging both Heather’s responsibility as a teacher and Corryn’s as a parent, and the characters do a lot of that challenging of each other. Heather’s more passive, avoidant approach and Corryn’s directness are brought into clear contrast, and the performers interact brilliantly, driving the plot and revealing secrets with a stunning, sometimes brutal veracity. Although some of the revelations are predictable, they are conveyed so well through these excellent performances and Lee Anne Matthews’s dynamic direction. It’s something of a master class, acting wise.

In addition to Johnston’s excellent set, the other technical elements of this play are also top-notch. Carla Landis Evans’s costumes suit the characters perfectly, from the more reserved Heather who is outfitted more conservatively, to the confrontational Corryn, whose style of dress is bolder. There’s also excellent lighting by Dalton Robinson and props also by Evans.

The show runs in real time, and that adds to its power. There is challenge here, and reflection, and tragedy, all movingly portrayed on St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s small stage. It’s an ideal space for this intensely intimate production. It’s one of those plays that can leave a viewer so stunned that when it’s time for applause at the end, it’s almost necessary to pause first. I couldn’t clap right away, and not because I wasn’t impressed but because I was, profoundly. Gidion’s Knot is a must-see experience.

Elizabeth Ann Townsend, Laurie McConnell Photo by John Lamb St. Louis Actors' Studio

Elizabeth Ann Townsend, Laurie McConnell
Photo by John Lamb
St. Louis Actors’ Studio

 Gidion’s Knot, presented by St. Louis Actors’ Studio at the Gaslight Theatre, runs until February 28, 2016.

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