Gidion’s Knot

Through Sunday, March 4
PSI Theatre, Durham

As in The Moors, an overactive imagination bears upon the tragedy at the center of Gidion’s Knot, a psychological drama that opens Bartlett Theater’s new season at PSI Theatre. In Johnna Adams’s two-woman war of nerves, Corryn (Lakeisha Coffey) is a mother still reeling from the death of her son, Gidion, after he’d been suspended from school several days before. She shows up in the cheery classroom of his fifth-grade teacher, Heather (Shannon Malone), for a previously scheduled parent-teacher conference, demanding to know: Why did Gidion kill himself? When a visibly distraught Heather proves evasive in her early responses, Corryn calmly, implacably keeps increasing the pressure.

Under Bryan Conger’s direction, two veteran actors punch and counterpunch with the best of them as they parse the physical evidence: the blood on Gidion’s face after a fight on the day he was suspended, a venomous Facebook post, and a cryptic note from a friend found in Gidion’s desk. After his motive remains elusiveand Heather’s principal never arrives to support the beleaguered teachershe produces a bombshell: a “creative writing” exercise that calmly describes an abominable atrocity that students, including Gidion, would carry out.

Corryn notes that Gidion’s extended revenge fantasy echoes a number of details from the medieval war poetry she teaches as a professor. But in a tale of what takes place when empathy is either misplaced or missing, we intuit, in a way the characters do not, that a student’s violence, internalized against himself, could have been directed at others instead. It’s unfortunate when this production’s last scene escalates matters beyond the believable in a final, fruitless shark-jump. Until then, a frustrating search for answers after an act of violence took us places where our culture needs to go.