THEATER | “The K of D, an urban legend” at Illusion Theater: A ghost story without the haunting

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Renata Friedman, making her Twin Cities debut at Illusion Theater in the area premiere of Laura Schellhardt’s The K of D, an urban legend, is of noteworthy talent. Energetic and artfully animated with a solid command of character, she deftly entertains and easily sustains the solo performance of just under an hour and a half long.

The K of D gives the versatile Friedman a host of folks to portray, most of them misfit youngsters who, evidently not fitting in with the cool kids of the small town St. Marys, Ohio, have banded together for social survival. Each portrayal is remarkably distinct as she becomes, over the course of the evening, virtually a one-person crowd. 

The play’s feel is something of a cross between Thornton Wilder and Stephen King. Like the Stage Manager from Wilder’s Our Town, K of D’s central character, “Girl,” acquaints you with her world through wistful reverie. She narrates flashbacks to put you back in the time when a skateboarding young boy bolts out into traffic and is killed, leaving his sister mute, invested with a supernatural ability, the Kiss of Death. For those suffering in their final moments, she can, by kissing them, stop that suffering and send them on into the afterlife.  This turns out to include a little dog cruelly suffering at the hand of an abusive owner. Like King horror flicks Silver Bullet and It, the flashbacks are inhabited by small-town kids on the fringe of regular life who—oddballs though they may be—are pretty interesting, rather likable, and certainly sympathetic.

Too bad they don’t show up in a reasonably well-crafted script, though. Laura Schellhardt—for all the engaging crew of characters that she populates The K of D with—too often dresses things up with dialogue that digresses into coy, poetic descriptions. Their immediacy regrettably dissipates before your very eyes.

Nor is she all that adept a story-teller. At the end of the first act, with the actors gone, the house lights came up and the audience still had to wait a moment, and figure out that it was time to applaud. That’s not the actors or the director’s job (Braden Abraham, who did a skilled job of pacing Friedman through life-like incarnations). At fault is an author who fails to provide forward motion, any sense of her characters’s pressing desires or, conflict by which, of course, momentum is propelled. You simply realize Friedman is not coming back on stage and figure out they’re not going to bring the house lights back down. It must be time to clap, go walk around the lobby for a little while, then come back. 

It doesn’t get any better for the second act.  Narration, even at its most effective, is a fine catalyst, but not what anyone would call a forceful device. That’s what dialogue is supposed do, spring out of character’s behavior and drive the story. For The K of D it lapses into conversation. Colorful, even enjoyable enough to, at times, close your eyes and envision the activity. But it is, nonetheless, just talk. Tale-telling that, as you hunker down in your mind’s eye for a good, ghost-story close, doesn’t deliver any kind of punch to hit home.

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