By Laura Schellhardt
Directed by John Vreeke
Produced by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Reviewed by Lorraine Treanor
It’s just a plain rehearsal room. You’ve probably been in it before. But step through its curtains this time and see sheets, some sky blue, some dirt beige, a storyteller’s tent in the center, and the hint of – what? Turns out to be a fishing dock.
Hopefully the room will be packed, because you will seek the security of human contact as this tale unfolds. At rise, we find our storyteller, who seems anxious to tell us about urban legends “Funny. They’re mostly rural.” she says. As is this one. Takes place in a small town in western Ohio.
On the way to school, a young boy is struck by a rusty Dodge, and watching him fly over the road and land before a billboard that reads “God Sees You ” are his pack of friends and his twin sister Charlotte. Everyone sees her run to where he will land, cradle his head, and receive his last words and a kiss.
You soon meet the play’s characters. Skinny Charlotte McGraw, struck mute by what she experienced, is buffeted by two despicable men: her thickheaded, vengeful father, and a piece of human offal called Johnny Whistler, the driver who killed her brother and who, by grotesque coincidence, becomes her next-door neighbor.
Then there is the gaggle of kids: the rap-influenced braggart, the anal-retentive list-maker and his muscle-bound, inarticulate brother, the gum-smacking wiseass with no posse to lead, Steffie, the val-girl floating head and the quiet girl – that’s our narrator.
That each one of these characters, as well as Johnny’s cement headed girlfriends, and Charlotte’s self-regarding prig of a mother, are brilliantly captured by a single actor is a tribute not only to Kimberly Gilbert’s considerable skill but to the beautifully crafted script.
Gilbert easily establishes each of her characters with an identifying gesture and vocal twang (aided by dialect coach Jennifer Mendenhall, one of the area’s best). More importantly, Gilbert brings authenticity to their emotions and to the story itself.
But this solo performer doesn’t work alone. She is aided by someone, uncredited in the program, who, behind those sheets, matches her every step of the way, and by an astounding set behind a set, revealed to you like in a magic lantern show.
Like some other productions John Vreeke has directed – Woolly’s Martha, Josie and the Chinese Elvis, Theater J’s Bal Masque, Theater Alliance’s The Monument, and especially MetroStage’s The Pleasure of Seeing Her Again – The K of D moves without a wasted movement or moment to its inevitable conclusion. Perhaps Vreeke’s greatest creative stroke was the casting of Kimberly Gilbert in the role – she who is an expert at telling the truth on stage, and brings passion and honesty to her town full of characters.
Gilbert’s marvelous work is supplemented by lighting designer Andrew F. Griffin and particularly by sound designer Matt Otto, whose soundscape for this show would make great radio.
This is a short run. K of D packs up its sheets February 10th. So see it before it disappears, like the great urban legend it says that it is. But on the way home you will ask yourself about the narrator, where she is now, and then you will realize the real story behind the legend. There always is one, you know.
That’s when you will see how the tale of Charlotte McGraw and the K of D (the kiss of death) is better than the one about alligators in NY toilets. And it will creep you out. Big time. As val-girl Steffie would say, “Ooohhh, delicious!”
Running Time: 1:40 (including one 10-minute pause).
When: Thursdays through Sundays until February 10. Sunday shows are at 7 p.m.; all other shows are at 8.
Where: Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D Street NW (7th and D Streets), Washington, DC
Tickets: $18 general admission. Call 202.393.3939 or visit here.
Information: Visit the Woolly Mammoth website.