By David Faller
What happens at a parent-teacher conference when the child in question has died? The appointment would logically be canceled. But what if it weren’t? Addressing the child’s improvement, behaviorally or academically, is out of the question. So what might be discussed, then?
This meeting is the subject of Emma Miller and Julia Greer’s senior thesis, Gidion’s Knot, directed by Miller and starring Greer and Cassidy Jones ’17. It also facilitates some surprisingly diverse conversation, a major draw of the show. The characters, Miller said, “end up having a really interesting conversation about topics that we’re discussing in the world right now without it being about those things.”
Similarly, Greer — who plays a grieving mother who meets with her deceased son Gidion’s teacher, played by Jones — found that the play fit into an unfortunately limited category. “It’s very, very rare to find [plays] that truly are two women on the stage that don’t just talk about feminism,” Greer said of playwright’s Johnna Adams piece. “That is something that was really exciting to us — that these were women that were living their lives, are strong people, and they happen to be women and they weren’t talking about being a woman all the time.”
The title of the play derives from the ancient legend of the Gordian Knot, in which Alexander the Great “solved” an unsolvable knot with no ends by cutting it with his sword. A second interpretation of this legend maintains that the knot was undone by pulling the knot off the pole it was attached to, allowing the knot to come apart easily. Gidion’s Knot deals with an essentially unsolvable problem, and challenges its characters and audience to wrestle with the nature of loss. “This is a fraught situation because it has both a hundred loose ends and none,” Miller said. “There aren’t really any answers to be had.”
The piece has two actors and the dramatic action occurs with no lapses in time. The resulting single set of costumes and practically nonexistent running crew, combined with the two-member cast, make the Gidion production team small, but the project has nevertheless garnered a large number of contributors. “It’s a testament to the play and to [Adams’s] writing how excited people are to work on it,” Miller said. “It’s a lot of people doing a lot of various things and they were also energized from their first look at it, which affirmed for us that [Greer and I] weren’t the only ones who felt like this was a great script.”
The situation of a parent-teacher conference puts two differing responses to death in stark contrast with one another — holding a conference at all highlights contrary ideas of mourning and acceptance. “I think this, more than any other play I’ve ever worked on, pulls you in a lot of different directions as an audience member and makes you sort of switch allegiances and discover things along with each of [the characters],” Miller said.
Gidion will have your stomach tied in knots.
Performances of Gidion’s Knot are this Friday, Nov. 7 and Saturday, Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. in the Hill Theater. Tickets are on sale at the Bolton Box Office (740-427-5546), open 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. Tickets can also be purchased at the door.