Breaking Down The Knot

In Play Reviews on February 18, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Break the Knot: A Review

On the campus of Bob Jones University, the most recent dramatic Vespers production presented the family drama Break the Knot. Vespers itself has become a bit of an enigma on this Protestant (and mostly Baptist) campus, since it has nothing to do with the traditionally Catholic practice of holding an evening prayer service. The recent focus on drama presentations in BJU Vespers has broadened the gap between these programs and the original purpose of “vespers.”

Break the Knot, however, takes a different course from the eccentricities of the past few Vespers drama productions. The script is an older one, originally premiering in 2007. While some may doubt that a six-year-old script is “old,” most of the Vespers scripts from the past two to three years have been brand new. In an academic setting, that’s nearly a full turnover rate of students who mark Break the Knot as a first “repeat” script. The summary of the plot and play, according to BJUPress, is that it is “[s]et in small-town New York in 1959. When his wife dies after a long illness, a father attempts to keep his family together. Grief-stricken and bitter, his eldest daughter struggles with a dark secret that hinders her relationship with both her earthly father and her heavenly Father.” Compared to the less linear scripts of the last year and a half or so, this one seems fairly cut and dry.

???? ??????, Jeff Stegall, and Becca Kaser respectively

Rebekah Nason, Jeff Stegall, and Becca Kaser respectively

The play gets its name from John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14, which the main character’s younger sister quotes (in part) and an essay that she tinkers with throughout the first part of the play (apparently as part of her English homework). The sister, Joyce, opens the play by reading the first half of Donne’s opening line: “Batter my heart, three-person’d God…”  The rest of the poem, though given only piecemeal in the script, reads:

[F]or you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

"a father attempts to keep his family together."

“a father attempts to keep his family together.”

This “knot” that only Kate’s God can break is the series of events and trouble that Kate, the main character, has gotten into right up until the start of the play. Joyce discovers and confirms Kate’s frequent midnight flights from their home, and Joyce seems unsure of how to prevent her sister’s downward spiral. We learn slowly of some past issues Kate has had, as well as the current accusations made against her by Miss Vivian Price, her teacher who works at the same school that John, the girl’s father, is the basketball coach. Most of these issues, past and present, revolve around a boy on her father’s basketball team, and whether or not he is dating Kate. Once confronted by Joyce’s information, Kate admits to everything she has thus far denied – leading us directly into the core of the problematic knot. What remains after is to find out if and how this knot can be untied, and what strings must be cut in order to do so.

The first and the current productions of this play share several things besides the script itself: the set is nearly, if not completely, identical, and the costumes have all been replicated to the last detail and hairstyle. Jeffrey Stegall is also a shared element – he played John, the father, in the original production, and now fills both that role and that of director. For the 2013 production, Rebecca Kaser takes the role of Kate – playing under her age, though this age difference did not prove to be a stretch. Kaser has the fortune of a gregarious personality and youthful face that enables her to play above and below her age with ease. The same could easily be said of Jessica Bowers, currently a senior at the university, taking the role of Vivian Price – Kate’s teacher – switching their literal roles from offstage life. Deserving of special mention is Kris Miller, who does an admirable job with the admittedly deep and challenging role of Edna, the girl’s grandmother.

Kris Miller as Edna

Kris Miller as ‘Edna’

Edna tends to be the divisive character in the play – if played with even a trace of façade, she becomes each audience’s favorite part to complain about. On the page, Edna leans towards being a deus ex machina in a matronly sweater and loafers. She has the right answers, the right ways to go about giving them, and impeccable timing. What Miller managed to do is deliver Edna’s lines as a fully believable person – a little meddling, but good natured, and honestly trying to help. No promises – just life experiences, while embracing the quirks into a believable onstage human being. Edna makes the connection, if a little obviously, to the major analogy in the play: the correlation between Kate’s relationships with her father, John, and her Heavenly Father.   


The audience is left with few questions as to what they are supposed to learn, a stylistic choice for the limited intended audience and situation. Even though Break the Knot’s ending does seem to tie up in a neat, if still fragile, bow, the play’s resolution argues that occasionally, even in real life, disastrous knots can be turned into ordered ribbons. 

By Lindsay MorganBio_Shots-1


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