Johnna Adams’ two-character play, making its Bay Area premiere in an Aurora Theatre production directed by Jon Tracy, doesn’t waste time taking the audience into its grip.
When single mother Corryn Fell (Jamie Jones) arrives at the fifth-grade classroom of teacher Heather Clark (Stacy Ross), it’s immediately clear that something is wrong.
Corryn is brusque, on edge and clearly upset. She has good reason — her son, Gidion, has been suspended, and she demands an explanation.
The answers are complex, and in the anguished and often harrowing confrontation that follows, the playwright unravels them in small, shocking increments. Over 80 intermissionless minutes, secrets are uncovered, lies revealed and alliances explained.
Clues slowly come to light — a Facebook post, a note passed from one student to another. Allegations of bullying, abuse and other shocking acts come bubbling to the surface as the two women attempt to determine truth and culpability.
The events take on new significance when a student’s story is produced and read aloud.
Corryn, a professor of medieval poetry, calls its grisly imagery “magnificent.” For Heather, it’s cause for alarm. With each new revelation, the play asks us to consider questions about creative freedom and school safety, the power of art and the origins of violence.
The issues are weighty, but Adams never lets them sink the script. Her writing is swift and sure, and the characters are well-drawn. Under Tracy’s cogent direction, the actors bring them indelibly to life.
Jones, who prowls the stage with a fiercely focused energy, is an intelligent, articulate Corryn. Small wonder this wounded, volatile mother notices a poster of the vengeful goddess Shiva hanging on the classroom wall; in her quest for justice, she seems capable of conjuring lighting bolts.
Ross, one of the Bay Area’s most versatile actors, is equally riveting as the aptly unsettled Heather. Ever mindful of the school’s need for damage control, she projects a smooth veneer that quickly crumbles as her own emotions come to the surface in startling ways.
Tracy’s staging, on Nina Ball’s colorful, neatly ordered and slightly claustrophobic set, unfolds with considerable impact. “Gidion’s Knot” wages war in a safe place, and the casualties are all the more devastating for it.
Presented by Aurora Theatre Co.
Where: 2081 Addison St., Berkeley
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes March 9
Tickets: $32 to $50 (discounts available for those under 30)
Contact: (510) 843-4822, www.auroratheatre.org