A parent/teacher conference, smoking with hot button issues and high drama, is the setting for Aurora Theatre Company's "Gidion's Knot," opening in previews on Jan. 31 and running through March 2 at the company's Addison Street stage.
Playwright Johnna Adam's play explores societal issues many grapple with daily: bullying, power struggles, freedom of expression, systemic failure in schools or parenting.
Red-flagged with polarizing, complex problems that are at the heart of what is largely an argument between Heather, a fifth-grade teacher, and Corryn, Gidion's mother, the "third act" happens after an audience leaves the theater, suggests Director Jon Tracy.
He sees himself as the play's ambassador; bringing the news to the people and sending them away, while asking himself to make daily adjustments.
Tracy is a Vallejo native who now lives in Oakland with his wife, set designer Nina Ball. The birth of the expectant couple's daughter will likely happen during the show's run,
Tracy is well-known in the Bay Area for re-imagining stories.
His production "The Farm" for Shotgun Players, a stage adaptation of George Orwell's "Animal Farm," caused a sensation and fast-tracked him on the local theater circuit of edgy directors.
"I like to be ever-evolving," he says. "If there was one word to describe me, it would be a verb: listening."
The juxtaposition of terms -- one suggesting motion, the other, stillness -- is intentional and possibly even signature Tracy. Listening to open spaces, devising fluid algorithms that warp and weave with each script, relying on brilliant, engaging storytellers (a term he prefers to "actors"), Tracy says he becomes more brazen about "looking down the rabbit hole" each day.
In rehearsals, he's less apt to speak, but more likely to rebuild -- not just think outside of -- the prior day's box.
"Gidion's Knot" requires double-barrel courage, because of the 126-page script's volatile steps into soul-crushing issues of violence and grief -- and due to the ellipses in the dialogue. "Someone will say something and there will be four dots," Tracy says. "Then it will happen again, and again. They give you a hole to fill, but they aren't pauses. They're actions."
Discovering the meaning and manipulation of pauses that do not cease to move is humbling, he says. Forging the play's shape, he finds inspiration in Ball, who is designing "Gidion's Knot" and whose "honor, grace, malleability, follow-through and imagination" are like a beacon, according to Tracy.
The production's two actors, Jamie Jones and Stacy Ross, are entrusted with steering the play away from becoming a didactic manifesto. "We explore where expository language comes from: It's only the first layer," Tracy says. "Actors are supposed to have massive expression, but Jamie and Stacy understand (how to convey) a limited, outside shell, with the wrestling match underneath."
Jones' energized, humorous portrayal of a mother's grief has helped move Tracy from "I don't know how to do this," his initial reaction to the script, to "dabbling into the unknown is worth doing."
Ross, he says, is an actor he will always want "top of the list in my army," adding that Ross keeps a steady hand on a character's history and "there's never an instance when I don't believe her."
Working as an educator with a number of Bay Area theater organizations, Tracy likens passing the torch to the next generation to another stumble in the dark. College students have only been around for 18 years, he says, wondering how he can replace their false images of success with truth and not end up destroying their dreams. "It's a math problem," he says. "You learn a sliver of knowledge from a play, a fantastic actor. You wake up, see where you want to go. Your own identity has been waiting, inside."
"Gidion's Knot" plays Jan. 31 through March 2 at the Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St. in Berkeley. For tickets and details call 510-843-4822 or visit auroratheatre.org. The play is for mature audiences. Its director is Jon Tracy, above.