The K Of D at Illusion Theater

Renata Friedman in The K Of D at Illusion Theater.

Laura Schellhardt’s slice of American Gothic mines the enigmatic Midwest by weaving spooky rural tall tales in her supernatural-themed play The K of D: An Urban Legend (Illusion Theater, through October 22). This eerie coming-of-age tale features a tour-de-force performance by Renata Friedman who brings the entire town of St. Marys, Ohio to life in this solo show that is based on the author’s small town life in Ohio.

This regional premiere puts on full display the immensely talented, versatile, and noted Seattle stage actress who has starred in previous incarnations of The K of D, and demonstrates Ms. Friedman’s dexterous ability to morph into 16 different characters—male and female, young and old, gentle and abrasive—with an emotional richness. Ms. Friedman uses her lithe frame and facial expressions to capture the citizens of St. Marys, a rural small town in Western Ohio near Indiana. The program takes care to mention that this is a real place.

St. Marys is described as the sort of place “you might pass on your way some place else.” The road map Ms. Schellhardt etches of St. Marys evokes a Dairy Queen, drive-thru liquor marts, and a “main street where the stores got display cases full of flies.” Her tale focuses on a group of awkward teenage boys and girls caught in this small town purgatory who bide their summers hanging out on a broke-down pier by a lake gossiping and trading urban legends and on the several shady adults that populate this town that might have been easily ripped from inside the pages of a William Faulkner novel.

Our main narrator, is a local unidentified girl, who is enamored with these broadly drawn teens (a whiny airhead, a loudmouth, a worldly early bloomer, etc.), and the apathetic adults in the community — primarily the McGraws, distant parents of twins Charlotte (dubbed Skinny Charlotte McGraw) and their son Jamie, Jack Whistler, their affable neighbor, and his errant son Johnny, the neighborhood bully who unintentionally runs over and kills the McGraws’ son while he was on his skateboard and is unremorseful about it. Jamie imparts a dying kiss on his sister’s mouth that witnessed the accident and is rendered mute after the incident.

The unsolved mystery that’s wafting through this town: Was Skinny Charlotte McGraw endowed with supernatural powers by her dying sibling’s kiss? If so, will she use these powers for good or evil?

Ms. Schellhardt’s tale of modern folklore seems to run short on sufficient suspense and pacing, and instead the script seems to emphasize poetic language and ambience. In a genre that relies heavily on elements of anticipation, dread, and uncertainty, The K of D falls short of its payoff.

What does not fall short is the beautifully realized production by director Braden Abraham and his terrific design team that make this play run like an efficient machine. Matt Starritt creates a lush soundscape that characterizes St. Marys: the wind stirring through the tall grass, the song of the crickets, and the beating of heron wings are just a few takeaways from his aural landscape. The single set design by Mr. Abraham and L.B. Morse, and the stellar lighting by Robert Aguilar conjure the summer evenings of this sleepy town. Bolstered by Mr. Abraham’s production and Ms. Friedman’s performance they make The K of D’s peek at spooked small-town culture worth the visit during this Halloween season.

This play runs 90 minutes with one intermission.

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