Reviewed by Michael DiSchiavi
This emotionally – wrenching play is set in a well-maintained 5th grade classroom. Only two people grace the stage during the entire 85-minute performance: the teacher, played by Laura King Otazo and the mother of a child who was suspended and has come unexpectedly for a suspension conference, played by Nicola Bertram. The visit is unexpected by the teacher since, over the weekend, the child killed himself. The teacher is caught off-guard, but the mother is not to be put off. She wants to know WHY her child was suspended, convinced that it is directly related to his suicide. The teacher, Heather, cites school policy, suggests a better time, etc. but the mother, Corryn, will not leave. She wants ANSWERS and Heather has them.
The dialogue is intelligent and witty; the weight of the subject matter is lightened at times with more than a few funny one-liners delivered by the mother. The conversation evolves as one might imagine such a conversation in real-life would. The tone changes from hostility, to argumentative, to empathetic, back to hostility. There are a few moments where the two women share camaraderie but such moments are fleeting. Corryn clearly blames the school, specifically, Heather, but also agonizes over her own culpability. Around the middle of the show, Corryn states rather poignantly, “I know I failed as a mother; I just don’t know how.”
Sudden, unexpected death generally raises questions. Some have answers, some do not. Some bring with it questions which often go unanswered. In cases such as this one, those left behind are faced with two central questions that may never be answered: Why? And What should I have done? The dialogue between the Corryn and Heather hint to many possible reasons or contributing factors to Gidion’s death, but nothing is for certain, since the one person who knows the truth is unavailable to tell it. It becomes clear that Corryn must learn to live with her grief and accept the fact that her son is gone so her questions will never be answered. Her anger (at herself, the teacher, the principal, perhaps even Gidion himself) is keeping her going at the moment but eventually must subside. There are one or two moments in the show where the women briefly bond but there is always the undercurrent of hostility – each blaming herself and the other.
Even with the much-needed comic one-liners from Corryn, this performance is heavy. It haunts, it inspires reflection. It is NOT entertaining, but it is engrossing and thought – provoking. It is an artistic rendering of a very serious societal problem told in a simple way. The show is highly recommended.