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Myth Adventures

by John Rodat on June 29, 2011

K of D, an Urban Legend
By Laura Schellhardt, Directed by Matthew Earnest Adirondack Theatre Festival, through July 2

Gurule in K of D

In K of D, an Urban Legend, an unnamed narrator (“the girl, who does most of the talking” in the script) begins by telling the audience that the story she’s going to tell is not about her. That’s in accordance with the standard structure of an urban legend, after all. The central character is always a friend of a friend, or this guy my cousin knows, or something.

 

In this case, the main character is skinny Charlotte McGraw, who sees her twin brother killed in a car accident and then goes silent after he whispers to her his final, mysterious words and kisses her on the lips. So, now-mute Charlotte can’t be the narrator, can she? (Hmm. Can she?) Instead, the story is told by The Girl, and through her characterizations of the small group of teen and preteen friends spending that summer—”the Summer of the Death,” as one labels it—together in Saint Marys, Ohio.

Lesley Gurule, as The Girl, then, is also Quisp Drucker, a Keanu-like duuude with a big mouth; Becky Ray Voss, whose precocious taste for bubble-gum cigarettes foretells a hard life ahead; Steffi Post, a chirpy girl with an incongruous yen for violence; the Hoffman brothers, Trent, a slow-witted hero, and Brett, an intense chronicler of facts; as well as Charlotte’s parents, the neighboring Whistlers, and evil Johnny Whistler’s several girlfriends.

This Adirondack Theatre Festival production, directed by Matthew Earnest, is an incredibly spare one: a wide-plank wood floor, with a few strategically located cubbies concealing a very few props, some lighting and recorded sound effects are the only dressing. The rest is up to Gurule. Largely, she carries it off.

Gurule successfully establishes the characters through voice and representative gestures: Quisp bounces and speaks with his hands; Becky uses her candy cigarette as punctuation; Steffi twirls her hair, etc. Though there was occasional slippage, as the night went on Gurule seemed to grow more confident: Quisp, especially, became a very fun and oddly charismatic character, and the fussy obsessiveness of Charlotte’s mother was played for honest laughs. But these characters are not meant, I think, to be fully embodied. The gestures are an effective shorthand, reminding us that the entire tale is being told by one teller.

As the plot unfolds, and the events related become more fantastic and urban legendary, there is a mounting and fun ghost-story-like tension. Perhaps, in part, due to the story’s small-town setting, or the “childhood recollected” conceit, it’s a gentle type of tension, though, a camp-fire anxiety. As much as I enjoyed this section of the play, it set up my one serious quibble.

In the K of D’s final moments, The Girl says of Charlotte, “It might be she found a way outta that godforsaken place. Or it might be that she found it wasn’t so godforsaken anymore. It’s hard to say. That’s the thing about legends. They don’t much concern themselves with after.”

But only lines before, The Girl tells us the fates of every other member of that summer’s coterie; and, from the beginning, this not-wholly-reliable narrator has dropped clues that this particular urban legend may not hew so closely to the form’s rules as it should: If it’s not even urban, maybe it’s also not quite a legend. Maybe there’s consequence.

The playwright’s decision to end on a mysterious note rang false to me, and felt like a dodging of the issue, or responsibility, rather than as a fun and formally appropriate ambiguity. A true urban legend’s purpose is to startle, amaze or creep the hell out. It’s to introduce weirdness into the mundane. But, by implying that this legend is more projection or psychological release valve and then sidestepping closure, Schellhardt frustrates needlessly.

In fact, some say, when the wind’s right in the Charles Wood Theater, you can still hear one critic’s cries . . .