Weekend Highlights

Published April 15, 2014
Going Places

A Parent’s Review: Gidion’s Knot

by Meg Butterworth

You know you’ve lived in Seattle a long time when you voluntarily spend part of what is likely the nicest day of the year (sunshine, blue skies and delicate cherry blossoms fluttering about) inside a dark windowless room seated next to strangers only to be philosophically and emotionally challenged by a highly disturbing, yet sometimes humorous but nevertheless heart-wrenching story.

That pretty much sums up my afternoon this past Sunday. 

Green Lake’s frolicking sun worshipers were clearly unaware of the drama, known as Gidion’s Knot, that was unfolding (and has been since March 28) before a captivated audience inside Seattle Public Theater’s historic Bathhouse Theater. 

The play, written by New York playwright Johnna Adams and directed by Seattle Public Theater’s Shana Bestock, centers on a parent-teacher conference for a 5th grade boy named Gidion. The conference comes on the heels of a tragic event involving Gidion (no spoiler alert here!) and casts a dark shadow over the creative talents he had shown as a budding writer in the past. 

During the ensuing 70-minute meeting the teacher, played by Rebecca Olson, and the mother, played by Heather Hawkins, try to figure out what Gidion’s motives are for doing what he did. All the while, they try to understand one another and their very different views on children. 

Amid tense confrontation, emotional outbursts, tears, sarcastic jabs and even a few shared laughs, they tackle a series of difficult questions: Should children be treated as fragile, innocent beings who need to be protected? Or, as Hawkins’ character accuses, is that a “Victorian” and “unenlightened” way of thinking? She references the Marquis de Sade as an example of a creative revolutionary and emphatically insists that children should not be coddled but allowed to see both the light and dark side of life. 

What are the roles of parents and teachers in a child’s growth and development? Why did the teacher discipline Gidion for his actions? Was there a missed opportunity for engagement in taking this approach? Could the mother have been more engaged with Gidion? How can parents and teachers nurture the growth and development of one child while also respecting the needs of the larger community? As the teacher insisted, she had a duty to the school and had to protect the wellbeing of the other students against Gidion’s actions.

All of this begs the question, who is accountable for a child’s actions? 

Hawkins and Olson do a superb job in presenting opposing viewpoints. Ultimately, they are unable to agree on much. It’s clear that the questions they grapple with have no solid answers. Still, both characters deal with them openly and honestly, and in so doing, reveal their own strengths and weaknesses. That’s all they can really do in what can be viewed as a grieving process for the two of them. 

Gidion’s Knot poses real-life questions that have tremendous relevance for anyone who has a child or works with children. The very fact that you won’t walk away with answers to questions and loose ends neatly tied up is a reminder to just how complex children are and how difficult it is to guide them through their early years. As a parent of an 8-year-old and 6-year-old, I have a new appreciation for this. Children are fragile but they are their own little beings, too. Perhaps if you just keep asking yourself the hard questions, some answers will reveal themselves along the way. 

After sitting through the performance I realized what a perfect venue it was for the play’s Seattle premiere. Part of Seattle Public Theater’s mission is to provoke conversation. The theater’s intimate setting works as a real advantage in making sure the audience doesn’t get “lost in the crowd” but instead feels a part of the scene that unravels on stage. With the play’s intense subject matter, it is nearly impossible for viewers to leave without engaging in conversation, or at the very least trying to verbally process the difficult questions that emerge. 

Gidion’s Knot is recommended for adults and kids ages 14 and older. The show contains strong language, graphic and violent descriptions and some topics that may be a bit challenging for you to explain to a child who hasn’t hit their teens. That said, it would be a great date night or afternoon outing with friends. 

The show runs 70 minutes without an intermission. An honor bar is available in the lobby with coffee, bottled water and some very yummy-looking cookies. There is a public parking lot on West Green Lake Drive North; the theater is a short walk from the lot. Street parking is also available, but fills up quickly on the weekends. Be sure to arrive early to the show; given the intimate setting of the theater and the intensity of the play, there is no late seating.

If you plan to see Gidion’s Knot, you must do so soon; the show closes on Sunday. Given the pleasant location of the Bathhouse, be sure to take time after the show to walk around Green Lake and ponder the show’s messages.

Photo credit: Rebecca Olson as Heather and Heather Hawkins as Corryn; photo by Paul Bestock.

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If You Go...

Where: Seattle Public Theater, 7312 West Green Lake Dr. N, Seattle.

When: Now through April 20. Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Cost: Tickets range from $15 to $30.

Contact: 206-524-1300, www.seattlepublictheater.org.