There’s nothing easy for an elementary school teacher when teaching 5th grade. For the students, it’s a time of transition. They roll their eyes when told to do something; they’re not always interested in explaining things, particularly when they’re not entirely sure why they think what they think; and they pick sides as they group together in cliques while circling around those they don’t particularly like. After teaching this age-group for a number of years, it’s not unusual for a teacher to request a transfer to a younger level.
In playwright Johnna Adams’ wrenching classroom drama, Gidion’s Knot, as presented in a co-production at Tempe Center for the Arts between TCA Theatre and Stray Cat Theatre, Heather Clark (Alison Campbell) has been a teacher for just two years. She wasn’t always a teacher. For a while she pursued a career in advertising, but changed direction and went for a teacher’s degree. Now she teaches a classroom full of 5th graders at a public school in a Chicago suburb. After the events that are about to unfold, even though it’s only been a couple of years at the 5th grade level, it would not be a surprise if Miss Clark requested a move anytime soon.
Under Tracy Liz Miller’s taut direction, and told in real-time with a running length of seventy-five minutes, no intermission, Gidion’s Knot is an adversarial drama of a meeting that was arranged before a tragedy occurred. Within minutes we’ll learn that eleven year-old Gidion, a student in Miss Clark’s classroom, killed himself after being given a five-day school suspension. As with most 5th graders who have yet to process information and are not entirely sure why they think what they think, Gidion, either because of humiliation, rejection, or perhaps for some other reason, reacted to something that resulted with a permanent solution to a temporary problem. “I came here with a simple question,” the mother tells the teacher. “What the hell happened?”
...you may not want to look, and you may not be enjoying what you’re seeing or hearing, but you can’t turn away.