'K of D' soars at Illusion Theater thanks to actor's efforts

​Theater in the morning can be an odd proposition. Actors (and theater critics) aren't the type to usually greet the day with a big sunny "hello" before getting down to the business of transforming themselves for an audience, who are usually sipping wine or beer rather than coffee. Still, at a time when I'm usually working on my third cup of Joe, I was over at the Illusion Theater Wednesday for a morning matinee of The K of D: An Urban Legend.

The touring production was more than worth the effort. The one-woman show takes the audience on a dizzying, Stephen-King-like tour of a small Ohio town and the strange events that surround a man-made lake one summer.

Writer Laura Schellhardt has a real ear for the everyday details of run-down, small-town life, and that comes out in every corner of the production. The play, directed by Braden Abraham, centers on a thrilling turn by Renata Friedman, who brings nearly two-dozen characters to life over the course of 90 minutes.

The "K of D" is the kiss of death, and it appears that young Charlotte McGraw has it in the wake of her brother's violent demise. The evidence is scant at first -- a few dead field mice and rabbits -- but the young members of the pack, which include our nameless narrator, are convinced the Charlotte can end a life with just a peck on the lips.

The Stephen King vibe goes beyond the subject matter. Many of King's best works turn on the actions of youth as they live below the view of the adults. In K of D, these kids spread stories, "investigate" the goings on, and even hatch a rather lame-brained plan to get back at their neighborhood's main antagonist. That would be Jack Whistler, the man who hit Charlotte's brother with his rusty truck and -- after his father passes away -- takes possession of the neighboring house. A summer-long battle is fought beneath the surface, with slimy Whistler trying to make life as miserable as possible for the surviving McGraws.

Plot aside, the tall and sinewy Friedman is the main attraction here. It's easy to forget that there's only one performer involved in the action, as she slips between the distinct characters effortlessly, all the while maintaining the play's forward momentum. There are other parts of the plot as well, from a possibly possessed heron to a teacher of the year threatened by a new rival. 

Some of the most effective moments come in the quiet of Charlotte's silent character, as in the beginning when we get a distinct example of her gift. Like a fairy princess, she kisses a frog, but instead of a prince to take her away from the pain, all she gets is the silence of a lost life.

The K of D: An Urban Legend runs through October 22.

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