Oct. 19 2017 09:59 AM

‘Gidion’s Knot’ appeals to the head, but tugs at the heart strings

Devotees of serious drama can approach Ixion Theater’s “Gidion’s Knot” with the certain knowledge that it will evoke powerful emotion and invite in-depth discussion.

Grief. It’s complicated. When it’s about the suicide of a child, often incomprehensible. Johnna Adams’ stage play is a common story in newspaper headlines, yet behind those headlines, there is often more to it. In this case, a lot more. “Gidion’s Knot” stabs at our hearts, mourning mixed with confusion, irony mixed with paradox. A grieving parent confronts a child’s teacher about a five-day suspension from school just prior to his suicide at a parent-teacher conference.

In the hands of Janet Colson as the mother, Corryn, confrontation is a desperate, demanding search for understanding. She bristles with a barely restrained sense of outrage, demanding an explanation for the suspension. Colson infuses her character with a jittery confusion, a bitter sarcasm that is so real, one loses the sense that this is a stage play.

Sarah Frank-Hepfer’s welcome return to the stage after a lengthy absence suggests she hasn’t lost a step. She constructs a somewhat unpleasant character, a relatively new fifth grade teacher, Heather, with due diligence on the surface, but lacking in sensitivity where it counts. The set — her classroom — speaks volumes to her commitment to neatness and order. Tacked-up essays on the classroom wall are the Gordian knot, along with drawings of the Buddha and Ganesh. They indicate a superficial knowledge of mythology, but she is no match for Corryn, whose doctorate in English studies hints at a much deeper knowledge of the subject. Heather is a teacher awkward in articulation and considerably insensitive to the needs of a grieving mother. You can almost smell the sweat in teacher Heather’s attempts to change the subject.

Corryn continues to hone in, a predatory shark probing and purposeful, determined to get to the heart of things, and when she finds out the truth, all hell breaks loose. And all kinds of questions are asked.

A sexual abuse cover-up? An essay too vivid to post? Is it a response to bullying, and if so, too graphic for fifth-grade consumption? How problematic can his writing be, before being suspended? And of course, how blind can a teacher (and her principal) be to a possible underlying traumatic incident?

Corryn blurts out her answer to these with another question, “Who are you, to tell my son what he can write?” The resolution happens near the end of the play. Heather breaks, weeping and sobbing, disclosing to the mother what she suspected all along. The mother Corryn walks off-stage with a fierce self-integrity. She will have none of it. The boy? His name was Gidion.

Gidion’s Knot Through Oct. 22, recurring weekly on Sunday and Saturday. 8 p.m. Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. $15 1105 S. Washington Ave., Lansing throbintheatre.com (989) 878-1810