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The K of D: An Urban Legend
by Laura Schellhardt
Directed by Tom Martin
Blue Rose Stage Collective
October 16, 2014

Em Piro Photo by Todd Heilman Blue Rose Stage Collective

Em Piro
Photo by Todd Heilman
Blue Rose Stage Collective

“Who has a ghost story?’  Director Tom Martin asked audience members to share their own spooky stories while gathered around a campfire before the beginning of Blue Rose Stage Collective’s latest production, a one-woman show called The K of D: An Urban Legend. Staged in an environment that lends very well to the story at hand and featuring a very welcome return to the stage by Em Piro, this is a successful slice-of-life story with a slightly creepy edge that serves as an excellent lead-in to the Halloween season.

After a few minutes of audience-contributed stories, Piro chimes in with “I got one”, and then jumps right into the performance, which tells a fascinating tale that’s part horror show, part coming-of-age dramedy.  The story follows young Charlotte and her gang of friends in semi-rural Ohio.  All sorts of strange events occur after Charlotte’s twin brother, Jamie, is killed by a car driven by local bully Johnny Whistler.  Just before he dies, Jamie gives Charlotte a kiss, which leads to her developing an unusual power.  Thus ensues “The Summer of the Death”, as the gang’s would-be ring leader, Quisp, calls it, and what unfolds is a mixture of episodes and anecdotes in the lives of Charlotte, her parents, and her friends as they deal with Jamie’s death, new neighbor Johnny’s intimidation, and strange events happening around the lake where the kids like to hang out. Is that new heron that flies around near the lake just a bird, or is it something more? And what about the animals that keep turning up dead? The answers to these questions lie in the richly-scripted story brought to life in Piro’s animated performance.

Apparently, this show was originally performed in a more traditional stage setting, although the way it’s performed here seems simply ideal.  Pairing the performance with an informal, nostalgic campfire setting is a stroke of genius from director Tom Martin and Piro.  In a backyard setting of an unassuming house called “The Revisionist Inn” on Cherokee Street, audience members are invited to enjoy hot cider, cheap beer, roasted marshmallows and homemade cherry cobbler as they gather in folding chairs around the fire.  The play takes place on a rough wooden stage with a deceptively simple setup including a wind machine, shadow box and simple but striking lighting by Mark Wilson, and an atmospheric soundtrack by Billy Croghan, performed by Croghan and Gavin Duffy. All these elements work together well to provide a fully immersive theatrical experience. Audience members don’t just show up and watch a play.  They are brought into the action through the excellent use of location and atmosphere, and also through Piro’s dynamic performance.

Piro is better known these days as the mastermind behind St. Lou Fringe, but this performance is a reminder of how great an actress she is.  It’s been 3 years since she took to the stage, and it’s been too long. She’s a wonderful performer, taking on multiple roles with seemingly boundless energy, clearly defining the different characters with instant changes in voice and posture. Through Piro’s skilled portrayals, we get to meet shy young Charlotte, brash Quisp, snarky Steffi, protective Trent and talkative Brett, Charlotte’s parents, menacing Johnny, and more.  With a skilled sense of timing, Piro manages to hold the stage for about two hours while maintaining her energy and pacing. The show is never boring, the story moves very quickly, and the quick shifts in character are never confusing.  I’m notoriously squeamish when it comes to horror stories, but this turned out to be the kind I like–more story than horror, and Piro has proven to be a consummate storyteller in bringing to life Laura Schellhardt’s excellent script.

The K of D strikes me as a perfect project for Piro, actually, since it has the feel of a full-length Fringe production.  She, Martin, and the rest of their crew have managed to bring a very experimental, home-grown air to this production that works incredibly well.  It’s sure to bring back memories of childhood, local legends and campfire stories, with just the right mixture of realism and ghostly creepiness that makes the best urban legends so fascinating.  It’s a supreme blend of material and presentation with only one weekend left in its run.  Go ahead, grab some cider and roast some marshmallows, pull up a chair and allow yourself to be transported. It’s a real treat.

Em Piro Photo by Todd Heilman Blue Rose Stage Collective

Em Piro
Photo by Todd Heilman
Blue Rose Stage Collective

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