The K of D, an urban legend
nytheatre.com review by Michael Mraz
August 22, 2009
"They're called urban legends, those things that get started when a bunch of people put their heads together and talk real low and real fast...," says the narrator of Laura Schellhardt's one woman show, The K of D, an urban legend. Society has a fascination with urban legends, they're as ingrained in us as much as stories around a campfire. Schellhardt suggest that they continue and grow because they're just more fun to believe than disprove. Her play, hot off a sold out and critically acclaimed run in Seattle, proves that rule: The K of D is so fun, creepy, and perfectly executed that people should pack the house to see it and rehash its legend long after they leave the darkened theatre.
The K of D (aka "the Kiss of Death") centers on the spectacular, engaging performance of Renata Friedman. Friedman brings to life a score of characters in a small Ohio town and recreates the story of the tragic death of a young boy, hit by a car while skate-boarding. The legend begins at the moment of his death when he places a small, gentle kiss on the mouth of his sister, Charlotte—and then dies. From that moment on, the myth grows that everything that Charlotte kisses soon dies.
The beauty of Schellhardt's prose, however, is not in the legend itself, but her chronicle of the way this small town reacts to the death and how they cultivate the rumor of this special power. The story of Charlotte's power is painted by a "pack" of teenagers who Charlotte and her brother hung out with. With the help of Friedman's performance, Schellhardt creates lush profiles of this group: the Brawn, the Brains, the Big-Mouth, the Money, the "Level- Headed" Leader, Charlotte—who has not spoken a word since her brother's death—and the quiet girl who does most of the storytelling in The K of D. Their minds, in a stage in life when things that go bump in the night still hold their dreaded mystique, are the perfect filter through which to view this story.
The story has its villain: Johnny Whistler, the man who hit Charlotte's brother with his car, but the villains in this story lurk around every corner and within your very heart. Like some of Stephen King's greatest ghost stories (Salem's Lot, Pet Sematary, and It, to name a few), The K of D shows us that the true "evil" may not be the act of the boy's death or in Charlotte's deadly "power," but within the souls and secret desires of everyone in that small town. It seems that no one has an unclouded soul in this tale, and that is where the true terror lies.
Enough cannot be said about Friedman's performance. She moves between characters and their mannerisms with such a deft smoothness that you never can mistake who they are and, by the end, you begin to lose her in the world she creates in your imagination. Her voice, sincerity, and pure storytelling craft draw you in to the point that the 90-minute runtime passes in the blink of an eye.
Braden Abraham's direction is stellar and spot-on. Such a compelling, intimate performance could not be created without a perfect storm of director/performer collaboration. The set (also Abraham's work), an old, beat-up dock on the lake where the story takes place, is simple, yet gives the audience everything it needs to set the scene, especially when paired with Matt Staritt's subtle sound underscore.
The K of D, an urban legend seems almost perfectly crafted from every angle. There are moments when the smallest sound matches up perfectly with a specific word, that it seems to fit so well that it couldn't have been coincidence. The team has built an extremely compelling story; oozing mystique and creating that feeling in the pit of your stomach that something isn't quite right with this picture. Just like any good urban legend. At the show's close, the narrator says she hopes "you'll go and tell this story as well," and The K of D is certainly worth being retold again and again—hopefully by this company.