Gifted actresses do a virtuoso tango in ‘Gidion’s Knot’

Laurie McConnell and Elizabeth Townsend are teacher and parent in an electric “Gidion’s Knot” at St. Louis Actors Studio.
Laurie McConnell and Elizabeth Townsend are teacher and parent in an electric “Gidion’s Knot” at St. Louis Actors Studio.

A grieving mother has questions. An upset fifth-grade teacher isn’t eager to answer. But will any explanation satisfy?

Education and parenting come to a head in “Gidion’s Knot,” a harrowing drama by Johnna Adams that features a virtuoso tango by two gifted actresses.

In highly charged, raw, emotionally devastating performances, Laurie McConnell and Elizabeth Ann Townsend dig deep and leave everything they have on stage. The gut-wrenching rollercoaster that they lock into for 70-minutes is blistering, brutal and heart-rending, a marvel to witness.

The small black box stage at the Gaslight Theatre has been transformed into a typical fifth-grade classroom with astute detail by scenic designer Cristie Johnston.

Battle lines are drawn when a distraught Corryn shows up for a parent-teacher conference with a distressed Heather. One sits behind an authoritative desk, the other squeezes into a pupil’s desk. But the power balance will shift as the single mom thrashes wildly around the room and unmarried-without-children Heather, attempting to be calm and collected, tries to hold her outrage and sorrow in check.

Gidion, Corryn’s troubled son, killed himself after being suspended from school for a very disturbing incident. Heather had sent a letter home requesting a meeting before the tragedy. Corryn shows up at school to keep the appointment, which Heather did not expect.

Their initially polite, guarded conversation will give way to heated confrontations, and bring to a head issues they have been mulling over, the turmoil consuming them. Was Gidion a bully or was he attacked? What was at the root of his psychological problems? Corryn is trying to make sense out of a senseless tragedy, and Heather is unsure what to reveal.

Lee Anne Mathews has seamlessly directed the women, keenly staging the discussion in several nooks, altering the control as each character lashes out like a wounded, caged animal. The exchanges are as finely tuned as a Shakespearean choreographed fight.

In his lighting design, McKendree University student Dalton Robison captured the ordinary space while costume designer Carla Landis Evans dressed the women to fit their roles and characters’ personalities.

The play is a deeply layered work, brought vividly to life by two exemplary performers. It is a shorter work, but will stay with you a long time afterward.

"Gidion's Knot"

  • When: Thursday-Sunday through Feb. 28
  • Who: St. Louis Actors' Studio
  • Where: Gaslight Theatre, 358 N. Boyle
  • Tickets: 314-458-2978; www.stlas.org