Gidion's Knot gives people fits. This two-actor play about an extraordinarily tense parent-teacher conference is popping up at theaters around the country and tends to attract either glowing or bilious reviews. One critic for the Chicago Sun-Times said it was "offensive on so many levels, it is difficult to know where to begin." So let's begin at the beginning. It's difficult to discuss this play without spoilers, so here's your alert.
The lights go up on an immaculate elementary-school classroom with 25 little plastic chairs, a colorful periodic table of the elements, and homemade posters about gods and myths: Athena, Shiva, the Gordian knot. It is a clean, cheerful illusion of order waiting to be torn apart. A delicate-looking teacher (Rebecca Olson in a thin blue cardigan) trembles quietly at her desk as a physically and emotionally powerful mother (a gloriously angry Heather Hawkins with bright red hair) storms into the room. The mother wants to keep a parent-teacher conference scheduled before her son died.
The teacher clearly does not. Gidion was not one of her favorites—she'd recently suspended him for writing a gorgeously grotesque story about his school that sounds like a scene from the Iliad passed through the sadistic prose of Dennis Cooper—and she doesn't want to rile his furious and grief-stricken mother. Not at first, anyway.