Los Angeles Theater Review: GIDION’S KNOT (Furious Theatre Company at the Carrie Hamilton in Pasadena)

Post image for Los Angeles Theater Review: GIDION’S KNOT (Furious Theatre Company at the Carrie Hamilton in Pasadena)

by Jason Rohrer on November 4, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


Johnna Adams’ 2012 play Gidion’s Knot, now receiving its premiere Los Angeles staging by the Furious Theatre Company, lends itself to spoilers.  To know much about the fragile plot will reduce the thrill of watching it play out, so avoid reviews (except this one) and synopses (I don’t include one here) until afterward.  Though Paula Cale Lisby (background) and Vonessa Martin in Furious Theatre Company's production of GIDION'S KNOT.flawed, this production is more than worth a trip in ignorance up the stairs at the Pasadena Playhouse.

After school on Monday, the sympathetic, visibly upset Ms. Clark (Paula Cale Lisbe) sits at her desk in the suburban classroom where she teaches 5th grade.  Ms. Fell (Vonessa Martin), edgy and cold, arrives for a parent-teacher conference regarding her son Gidion, who was suspended on Friday.  A big clock on the wall reminds us that this meeting plays out in real time.  Revelation vies with recrimination over 80 awkward, frequently unpleasant minutes.  The two women hiss, yell, and weep through questions of personal responsibility; of the roles of student, parent, and educator; of bullying and conformity; ultimately, of individual rights vs those of society.  In a weekend when one man with a gun virtually shut down a whole side of town to make a violent political statement at LAX, this production opened with a discussion we need to have more often.

That Ms. Adams’ play raises these inflammatory issues – especially in a Southern California all too ready to stage complacency-inducing spectacles – is very nice.  Ms. Adams displays some writing chops here, cleverly subverting expectation in character and action while providing a breathtaking, poignant story-within-the-Paula Cale Lisby and Vonessa Martin in Furious Theatre's production of GIDION'S KNOT.story that counts among the profound moments of my theater season.  However, the playwright does occasionally abdicate craft for speechifying, shoving thesis statements into the mouths of characters who otherwise talk like humans.  By contrast, consider Sean Graney’s 2004 The 4th Graders Present an Unnamed Love-Suicide, given a brilliant production last year by the Coeurage Theatre Company.  Also about bullying, a child’s suicide, and a posthumously glorified manifesto, The 4th Graders fires an arsenal of theatrical guns and always remains a play first and a screed second.  Gidion’s Knot, in which two characters basically stand talking on a set, sometimes feels as if it’s been adapted for the stage from a blog post.

And in other ways, Gidion’s Knot is rather overwritten; even the characters admit that the first half hour is a cheap delaying tactic (ostensibly on the part of school authorities, but they didn’t write the play).  Early devices intended to ratchet up tension annoy because they’re dramatically extraneous and, under Darin Anthony’s Paula Cale Lisby and Vonessa Martin in Furious Theatre Company's GIDION'S KNOT.direction, not very well employed.  Actors who are supposed to stalk impatiently instead wander, vaguely troubled.  There is some good acting of some good dialogue here, but of these two actors, one is better prepared for the emotional demands of her roles.  Again, Mr. Anthony might have been more helpful; largely, he plays with distance, moving the women toward and away from each other on Aaron Francis’s dead-on set.  I don’t think this play is well-enough written that one can safely let the actors speak for it without a little more directorial engagement, or at least giving them something to do with their hands.

Regarding that chillingly evocative classroom set, which spills over into the audience with a minimum of delineation in this traverse-stage configuration:  the play calls for the audience to identify with the adults onstage more than with the children never seen, so seating us in school desks serves no logical purpose but to telegraph a didactic intention.  If you think your audience is here to learn, it may not be in your best interest (or theirs) to tell them ahead of time.  Still, the lectures offered here need hearing, and deserve a listen.

photos by Anthony Masters Photography

Gidion’s Knot
Furious Theatre Company
Carrie Hamilton Theatre
Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino
scheduled to end on November 24, 2013
for tickets, call 626-356-7529 or visit http://www.furioustheatre.org

Leave a Comment