Review: 'Gidion's Knot' by Backyard Theater Ensemble

Nancy Sasso Janis

‘Gidion’s Knot’ is a play written by Johnna Adams. It is an unusual piece featuring only two women on the stage that is as challenging for the theatre company that chooses it as it is for the audience who attends. And yet, Donato J D’Albis knew from the first moment that he read it that he had to direct it and under his direction the Backyard Theater Ensemble will present this challenging one-act in their tiny corner of the Thomaston Opera House. 

 The story involves a unique parent teacher conference in April of the present year that unfolds in real time. Set in a fifth grade classroom in a public school in a suburb of Chicago, a parent shows up for her scheduled conference with her son’s teacher despite the fact that her son has committed suicide over the weekend. 

 Corryn (Kailee Donovan) is determined to get some answers from her son Gidion’s teacher and will bully them out of her if need be. Heather (Sybil Chamberlin) is emotionally overwhelmed as she deals with the most difficult parent she has ever encountered in her brief teaching career. As the two ladies wage a verbal battle that is marked by peaks and valleys, many contemporary educational issues come to the surface. A gifted student whose writing could be a cry for help, cyberbullying, possible sexual abuse...yes, it is not for the faint of heart nor anyone under 14 as is suggested. Some of the answers to unraveling the knot that was Gidion are slowly revealed in less than predictable ways.
The two actresses that take on these difficult roles are most definitely up to the challenge. Ms. Donovan, a teacher offstage, switches to the other side of the desk to play the parent of Gidion. A founder of the BTE, she gave a wonderful performance as Abby in Belleville; here she is the articulate woman demanding to know the reason for her son’s suspension from school. 

 Ms. Chamberlin has less than half of the lines but conveys so much about her character with her skilled acting. Last seen at BTE as Lenny in ‘Crimes of the Heart,’ this is a gifted actress that I never tire of watching onstage.

 I vacillated between siding with the teacher and the parent throughout the 90 minutes, I guess about who was to blame for the death of the student. I honestly am not sure that I have reached any conclusions yet.There are a few licenses taken with elementary school procedures. I would quibble that technically the principal suspends a student (and not the teacher) and should have been the one holding the conference. I also felt that the teacher shared many details about other students that she probably should not have. 

 Mr. D’Albis, who deserved to win the Best Director award at the CT Community Theater for his direction of the excellent ‘Laundry and Bourbon,’ provided superb direction to the two actresses. His assistant director and fight choreographer was Chet Ostroski and Ms. Donovan served as producer. The background sounds by Damien Figueras and Adam Peacock added much to the proceedings and lighting designed by Dylan Maxwell Reilly was inspired. Set design by the director and producer was meticulous and appropriate and appeared more spacious than it truly is.

 Because this play brings up so many issues, talk backs will be conducted after the performances with the director, actors and school psychologists. Gidion’s Knot will run August 21-22 & 28-29 with 8 PM performances and August 30 with a 2 PM performance. Tickets can be purchased at or through the Thomaston Opera House Box Office at (860) 283-6250. 

Pictured: Sybil Chamberlin (left) as Heather and Kailee Donovan as Corryn in 'Gidion's Knot' Photo courtesy of BTE