According to the National Education Association website, “A parent teacher conference can be stressful, for you and the parents, but with proper planning and organization you can lay the groundwork for a productive relationship that will benefit the best interest of the child.” The current production at none too fragile theater, “Gidion’s Knot” by Johnna Adams, takes this centerpiece of the education system for an emotional body slam. Every aspect of the description is ripped apart and shredded by harsh reality. Entering the space, we find ourselves in a 6th grade classroom, and director Sean Derry did not skimp on décor. Many student desks abound, with pictures of polar bears, mythological posters for the class lesson plan of the week, and A+ papers up on a pin board to highlight student achievement. In the middle of the A+ accolades is the paper’s subject matter “Gordian’s Knot,” which is a legend associated with Alexander the Great. It is often used as a metaphor for a problem that is not easily solved, seemingly too complex, but on occasion can be rectified by “cutting” the problem out. Yes, it is a hint indeed.
Sean Derry masterfully directs this piece in real time, letting the play breathe with refreshing clarity. And as for the play, over the course of a 90-minute parent/teacher conference, grieving mother Corryn (Jen Klika) and emotionally overwhelmed primary school teacher Heather (Alanna Romansky) have a fraught conversation about the tragic suicide of the mother’s son and the teacher’s student, Gidion. Gidion may have been bullied severely — or he may have been an abuser. As his story is slowly uncovered, the women try to reconstruct a satisfying explanation for Gidion’s act and come to terms with excruciating feelings of culpability.
Romansky provides the eye of the storm. First, she is taken by surprise by a parent who shows up for her dead son’s conference. From the start, Romansky succeeds in presenting a shocked veneer and then slowly unraveling, not in raw emotion for quite a while, but with information that she decides to share. Watching the process is wonderful. The teacher has to stall and dance around secrets that are too confidential to share and that she is legally prohibited to talk about. When the teacher finally has to deal with her own tragedy, the wall breaks down and uncomfortable truth takes hold. Well done.
Circling the eye is the storm named Corryn, portrayed with raw, powerful emotion by Klika. As any parent reeling from the loss of a child, Klika inhabits this fractured soul with incredible honesty. Watching her battle to find out the answers to so many questions is heartbreaking, including coming to terms with the biggest question, which is “Why?” Suicide has so many painful ramifications. Blame is a terrible cost, and searching for that answer is brutal. Klika does a beautiful, painful, amazing job bringing the mother’s story to light.
The Technical Staff does a great job. Brain Kenneth Armour serves as Stage Manager, and helps provide lights and sound. (The ticking clock throughout the play is haunting.) Sean Derry is the decathlon athlete of the evening with set design, set construction, lights and costume design.
You will not leave the theatre as you came in, I can assure you that.
Kevin Joseph Kelly
none too fragile
1835 Merriman Road
Akron, OH 44313