Review: The K of D: An Urban Legend by Laura Schellhardt. Directed by Braden Abraham. With Renata Friedman. Now through February 20 at Seattle Rep.
I have a long list of theatrical themes that make me nervous: Outdoor Theater. Basement Theater. Autobiographical Theater. Shows with aggressively cute kids. Musicals based on recent movies. Anything with the words “vagina” or “penis” in the title. Anything written by Yazmina Reza. Oh, and Solo theater pieces…my cheap Midwestern sensibilities object to paying full price for a one person show. That, and frequently they are usually a monochromatic bore. (Also, if the performer in question is lousy, you have NOTHING to fall back on.)
The K of D at Seattle Rep is a solo show and it’s the first of two such shows this season, (Mike Daisey’s monologue on Steve Jobs is coming up soon) and while I understand it might be an economic lifesaver for the big regional theaters to stage tiny cast shows, I still disapprove. Solo shows, to me, aren’t really theater…it’s a lecture with good lighting. That being said, I have to admit that The K of D does have its charms. Its sole performer, Renata Friedman, is happily NOT a monochromatic bore but an engaging young actress with tons of charisma and plenty of technical training and she does a fine job with the material, slight as it is. The K of D is a ghost story, or really, a shaggy dog story about something spooky that happened one summer in a small town in Ohio and while the author Laura Schellhardt has the talent to spin a moderately interesting yarn, many elements of the story don’t really add up. And, even at a brief 70 minutes, the show seems a bit stretched and forced. Most good ghost stories, told around a roaring camp fire, probably last ten to 15 minutes tops. The K of D doesn’t have enough interest to merit another hour of gothic Midwestern quirk.
The plot, in a nutshell: A young woman, known only as “The Girl” relates a tale about something that happened a few summers ago in her tiny Ohioan town. That year, a young boy was killed in a car accident and as he died, he kissed his teenaged sister good bye. Seemingly, he passed into her and now, the sister, Charlotte has the gift, or curse, of The Kiss of Death (the “K of D”…get it?) Things get increasingly stranger that summer, when the bully who drove the car that killed her brother moves next door to Charlotte and her family. The Girl, (who rather obviously is now an older version of Charlotte) relates the tale of that summer through the eyes of Charlotte, her parents, and the gang of friends she hangs around with.
Just in that brief description, you can pretty much guess where the plot of The K of D is headed. There aren’t many surprises in this ghost tale but there are lots of discrepancies. The show started off with a reference to “drive THRU theaters”. I don’t know where Ms Schellhardt grew up, but I believe she’s referring to “drive IN theaters”. (I’m not sure what the purpose of a drive thru theater would be.) More egregiously, it’s never made clear WHEN these events took place; the Narrator (and the actress) is obviously in her mid to late twenties. Yet, the character refers to the OTHER teen characters (all around 15 or so when events take place) and their fates as older adults. That doesn’t make much sense, unless of course The Girl is also dead. Also, the entire concept of kids hanging out in small town “gangs” seems really phony and TV/Movie Land-ish. There are no references to anything historical or pop culture-ish so it’s impossible to place a time to the events. The K of D never seems to be grounded in any sort of believable reality, (and frankly, even the most fantastical of stories should have some sense of truth to them), and you’re left wondering if Saint Mary’s Ohio occupies some space between Mayberry and Leave it to Beaverville on the backlot at Universal Studios. I grew up in a tiny Midwestern town in the 70’s and 80’s and believe me, it was far more like Twin Peaks than Mayberry. St Mary’s Ohio and its corn pone inhabitants seem about as real as the meat at Taco Bell.
Nice things to say: I very much liked the haunting set design, executed jointly by the director, Braden Abraham and L.B. Morse. The Girl relates her tall tale on the rotting dock on the banks of a lake, framed by a row of corn stalks that rustle in the wind. It’s a simple and atmospheric set and lovingly lighted by Robert Aguilar. More kudos to the sound design of Matt Starritt, which is an integral part of the piece.
Finally, Ms Friedman does an admirable job of holding our attention for the 70 minutes of The K of D, something that can be difficult for the most experienced of actors, and her ability to convey the large number of characters while sustaining the mood of the piece is a tribute to her talent. (I will quibble a bit and say, that some of the teen-aged character voices seemed a little elderly, but it’s not easy finding 16 different voices to portray, so I’ll cut her some slack.) Renata Friedman is going to have a major acting career, if not in Seattle, then certainly in theaters all across the country. She has the chops to go the distance.
Who’s this for? Older folks and families looking for safe entertainment. Perfect for people with short attention spans.
Tags: The K of D