I watched Gidion’s Knot again before I participated in the post-performance talk-back.
Indeed, both actors have settled nicely into their roles since I saw the play opening night. They bring more nuance – complexities and complications – to their characters than I saw when I first read the script. While I still think the teacher, Ms. Clark, is scapegoated as an idealistic but ultimately vision-less bureaucrat, Laura Esping’s performance last night especially in the moments before and during her reading of Gidion’s story, rang so true. Here’s a person with self-regard, now here she is really being present and thoughtful, and now here she is reading something she detests with care, maybe even empathy.
I absolutely LOVED Aditi Kapil’s Corryn Fell! She’s the better written character, for sure, the one that clearly Johnna Adams knows best. But Aditi’s performance – for me – captures not only the loneliness of being the widowed single mother of an only child/son, but the loneliness of being an academic, and the paranoia of being a parent of color. Not a word about race is spoken in the play, but Aditi’s brown body means something very, very particular in that classroom space with these and other ‘facts’ laid out in the play. Aditi’s performance makes me wonder if Corryn’s husband was white and, if so, was Gidion visibly a person of color. Her performance makes me wonder where Corryn is going when she finally leaves the classroom. Her performance makes me wonder who else in the world is there for her. There’s a lovely, subtle parallel in the play. Ms. Clark is grading papers at the beginning and Corryn says she was grading papers when Gidion brought home the suspension note…
Alas, the premise of the play is problematic – it has never been my experience that any student, much less an 11-year-old, who is suspended from school is allowed to leave campus without a parent or guardian present.
But, built on that flawed premise, the play does do something that we don’t seem to have in this culture: it creates a space where people are brave enough to dignify each other long enough to have a painful conversation that doesn’t solve anything but perhaps resolves something and leaves the humanity of all involved in tact.
As Tyler Durden says, “Fights will go on as long as they have to.”
Which is a contrast to the real world. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, maybe I’ve been a student too long, but, at the talk-back, there seemed to be fertile ground for talking about adult/child communication, community support for families, and why education policy seems to get in and in the way of both. And yet, because a talk-back is about getting a ‘behind-the-scenes’ view of the play, the conversations that Gidion’s Knot starts take place elsewhere… Which, is good, but was, for me, frustrating.
It was interesting listening to Sandra Smith, MN PTA Outreach Commissioner talk about the ways she creates relationships with her young people by staying involved and hearing, really being interested in what they and their friends say. I wonder if maybe too many of us are so caught up – in real life – playing roles or having kids play roles that we forget to see kids as full individuals with particular needs that only they can articulate. I also wonder if maybe too many of us abdicate our responsibility as adults to measure what kids say and do against a matrix of time and experience…