“Gidion’s Knot”: Freedom of Expression In A World of Safe Spaces

Layla Hanson/The Triton

Personal responsibility, freedom of expression, and the American educational system all collide in “Gidion’s Knot,” produced at Diversionary Theatre Black Box. Directed by Kym Pappas, “Gidion’s Knot” explores the contemporary issue of how school violence and bullying interplay with parent-teacher accountability.

Written by Johnna Adams, “Gidion’s Knot” is a one-act play that takes place during a parent-teacher conference between a single mother, Corryn, and her son’s teacher, Heather. At the beginning of the play, we discover that there has been a tragedy concerning Corryn’s son, Gidion, and Corryn comes to the meeting seeking answers.

Throughout the course of the play, the truth of the situation is slowly revealed, including the reasons for Gidion’s recent suspension. As the women continually push each other, each holding the other responsible, they each begin to discover their own role in the events that occurred. Fraught with emotion, both Heather and Corryn have breakthroughs and breakdowns, and ultimately come to accept their liability in what has transpired.

With such an emotionally charged play, it is incredibly easy to lose the refinement of acting in crests and waves, giving the audience time to adjust to both the growing tension and resulting cathartic release. Instead, Corryn and Heather, played by Jyl Kaneshiro and Carla Nell, were intelligent actors who managed the tremendous intensity of the play with grace. They also fully utilized gestural acting, inhabiting the space with movements and postures that addressed the deeper subtext of the play.

When I spoke to Director Kym Pappas after the show, I asked her about many of the gestures inherent throughout the duration of the play; for example, Corryn often had her hands in her pockets, which, as an audience member, I read as a method of restraint. When I asked if Corryn’s physicality was, in fact, a way of clinging to a façade of control and poise, Pappas confirmed that for Corryn, it was a way of not “allowing herself to break completely — because there’s no way of coming back from that.”

Pappas also describes that within the script itself, playwright Johnna Adams leaves the creative team many places for open interpretation, through the punctuation of the dialogue. Pappas said this lead to “at least 10 days of table work…[and] discussion about, ‘What are you saying here?’ ‘What are you not saying here?’, [and] ‘Why are you not saying it?’”

Although these questions perfectly capture the subtext that is prevalent throughout the play, there was a moment in the show that reflected the opposite — it was actually quite explicit and detailed. In the show, when this stimulus (the reason for Gidion’s suspension) is presented, Heather and Corryn react incredibly differently to it: One finds it quite distressing, and the other finds it to be a brilliant piece of work.

This demonstrates the inherent objectivity of art: What some find beautiful and artistic, others may find disturbing. More importantly, are we allowed to censor what we personally find disturbing? In the educational system, we are entering an era where slang such as “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” are common. This has resulted in a heated debate, with some arguing that it is censorship and an infringement on freedom of speech, while others argue that the freedom to express personal views does not also inherently allow you to potentially upset others emotionally with content one may find disturbing.

“Gidion’s Knot” explores this debate with veracity, revealing that there is not always an easy answer to an issue with so many questions. The show itself, however, makes you think and feel deeply, and consider a perspective opposite the one you may have.

Although it is easy to slip into a stubborn and divisive state, “Gidion’s Knot” demonstrates how that view can hinder growth, and potentially cause damage permanently. Instead, listening, looking for clarity, and considering opinions that contradict our own may lead to a path of healing.

 

Any student, staff, or faculty can get $10 tickets to any of the shows with the code TEACHER10 online at: http://www.innermissionproductions.org/tickets 

Layla Hanson is a Staff Writer for the Arts and Entertainment section of The Triton. She can be reached at lcrumple@ucsd.edu.