SHEPHERDSTOWN – The intense classroom play “Gidion’s Knot,” which dazzled audiences at last summer’s Contemporary American Theater Festival here, this weekend could snag an honor considered the nation’s top prize for new plays.
Johnna Adams’ work is among six finalists for the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association’s New Play Award. The winner will be unveiled Saturday during the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Ky.
In a news release from the Critics Association announcing the finalists, judges called Adams’ play a “perfect piece of theater that is both exhilarating and devastating.”
A reviewer from The Washington Post called Adams’ play “harrowing” and as “elegant as it is chilling.” Other critics have described “Gidion’s Knot” as riveting, raw, honest, disturbing, searing and, at times, very funny.
The drama takes place during a 90-minute parent-teacher conference between a mother mourning the loss of her son, Gidion, and Gidion’s emotionally overwhelmed fifth-grade teacher.
Was Gidion bullied? Or did his suspension come because he abused other students? As Adams’ play slowly uncovers an explanation for Gidion’s suicide, it also explores how these two women come to terms with their deep feelings of culpability.
Adams, who graduated from the DePaul University Theatre School in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in acting, later was accepted into Hunter College’s Masters of Fine Arts Playwriting Program.
“Gidion’s Knot” made its world premiere at CATF, the annual new-theater extravaganza that unfolds each July at Shepherd University.
Joey Parsons and Robin Walsh starred in the play, which was an audience favorite. CATF officials say “Gidion’s Knot” was performed before sellout crowds at its 26 performances.
Ed Herendeen, the founder of CATF, directed the play last summer. “Gidion’s Knot,” he said, is precisely the type of provocative and powerful play that the film festival is built on.
“I am so very proud of Johnna’s play and the national attention it continues to receive,” Herendeen said “‘I am confident that this important new American play, by this unique emerging voice for the stage, will have a long future in theaters across the country.”
For this weekend’s top winner, more than prestige is at stake. The honor comes with a $25,000 prize. Two citation winners each receive $7,500.
According to a news release from CATF, the six finalists were selected from a record-setting 43 eligible scripts. All considered plays received a professional premiere outside of New York City during 2012.