Monday, September 14, 2009

Fringe Encores: The K of D

"I've got one, I've got one," calls a disembodied voice from the darkness, invoking the ritual with which young children begin to share their urban legends--legends which, as is later pointed out, are most often shared by those who live in decidedly non-urban areas, like The K of D's Saint Mary's, Ohio. The lights come up on The Girl, and as she slowly sets the stage ("Think x," she says, "Think y," where x and y represent the detritus of any small town), the lights slowly rise on the rest of the set--an intimidating chunk of an old wooden pier. Now that the picture's set, The Girl halts her narration and jumps into the scene as Charlotte McGraw, the sort of girl who at first glance seems to be kissing frogs in the hopes of finding a prince, but who on a second, creepier--dare I say, urban-legendier--look, may be testing the strength of her secret power, the Kiss of Death.

Laura Schellhardt's script is a nice piece that rises above genre but not camp, landing gracefully as a bloodless, sexless (but not substance-less) Tales from the Crypt-type affair, only cleverly narrated by a wide variety of townsfolk (well over a baker's dozen). And here's The K of D's secret strength: Renata Friedman, who plays all of the parts, doesn't "got" just one, and that's one of the two things that vividly brings this play to life. The other is Braden Abraham's brilliant use of aesthetics, from Robert Aguilar's aforementioned lighting to Matt Starritt's terrific sound design, which punctuates Friedman's descriptions with that extra bit of truth that every great legend needs.

On the whole, The K of D is a pretty standard tale of magical realism--very similar to another recent Fringe show that mixed broken homes with otherworldly dreams, Ether Steeds. But this one's worth seeing for Friedman's performance(s), which is more than just the overt tics necessary to help the audience follow along. (For instance, Quisp Drucker, the leader of the Pack, has such a thuggish swagger that the phrase "exaggerated bravado" isn't actually redundant; at the other end of the spectrum is Steffi Post, whose shrill "Oh my god, oh my god" is pure comic relief.) No, Friedman's got the range for subtlety amid her quick changes, the sort of skill that's necessary to plausibly carry on a conversation not just between two characters, but between five or six at once: at one point, she singlehandedly acts out a chase scene.

The only thing missing--perhaps as a consequence of such wonderful storytelling--is a deep connection to the story, in which Charlotte's twin brother is hit by Johnny Whistler's car, and the other kids plot revenge against the evil Johnny. But that fact is buried at the bottom of this review because you won't actually mind: that's how slick the performance and production are.

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