Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Chicago

The K of D: An Urban Legend
Route 66 Theatre
Guest Reviewer: Richard Green

Gwendolyn Whiteside
Last year, during the big election, it was not unusual to hear politicians and pundits talk about "The Real America," which apparently was located somewhere off the interstate highway system, and certainly nowhere near any major cities. Apparently, it was a place where people still said "Land sakes!" and grown-ups never had first names. So, after all that flattering talk, I was a little shocked when a friend who actually grew up in rural Tennessee tried to set me straight the other day: "In those little towns, there's just nothing to do," she said. "So, they're all full of teenage pregnancy and drug abuse!" Quite a different picture from the one the politicians had been painting.

The truth lies somewhere between in Laura Schellhardt's tale of a teenage summer in the fictional town of St. Marys, Ohio. The K of D: An Urban Legend tells a mystical ghost story that acknowledges the dangers of idle youth in the middle of nowhere, but also manages to be funny and dramatic and scary in ways you might not think possible—especially when you consider that the whole story is told by just one very talented young actress.

Gwendolyn Whiteside is that actress, embodying not just a half-dozen bored kids on stage who've just lost one of their friends, as well as the creepy man who ran him down, and the boy's parents; she's the one who juggles all of these indelible identities like a circus pro. Danger, death and the supernatural dog them every step of the way, as wistful magical moments intertwine with some very cold hard realities. Her shorthand physical descriptions of each character (with the help of director Meredith McDonough), along with many sound effects impeccably woven into the monolog, make Ms. Whiteside's performance seem both simple and fantastic.

The K of D in the title (you might as well know) refers to a "kiss of death" power a girl in town seems to have acquired near the end of the school year. And it opens the door to what the local kids call "the summer of death." There's the seemingly world-weary girl, and the hilariously desperate-to-be-heard innocent, and the two boys with easy access to guns. Ms. Whiteside also manages to cram other unique personalities into the story, including a perpetually antagonized boy who helps keep the tension alive, and a mom who's suspiciously able to win "teacher of the year" contests again and again.

In Ms. Schellhardt's story, getting its first full staging here in the Old Town part of Chicago, a mysterious heron seems to have taken on the spirit of the dead boy, and the beating of its wings is dreadful and foreboding, thanks to Lindsay Jones' remarkable sound design. The lighting is quite minimal, which is not unusual for a company only two years old. But the sound of summer crickets and frogs and colorful scenes by a man-made lake help create an isolated, tidal pool effect, where these teenagers confront their coming-of-age crises with great humor and drama. And only occasionally are we aware that the full weight of the story rests on Ms. Whiteside's narrow shoulders, where it also (amazingly) takes flight.

Through July 12, 2009 at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 North Wells. The venue is just south of North Ave., a few blocks from the Brown Line's Sedgwick stop. For information call (773) 308-6927 or visit them online at

Gwendolyn Whiteside*

Director: Meredith McDonough**
Stage Manager: Jaclyn Holsey*
Sound Design: Lindsay Jones
Lighting Design: Jesse Klug
Scenic Design: Steve Key
Assistant Stage Manager: Dusty Wilson
Assistant Sound Operator: Kaitlyn Meyers
Graphic Design: Chicncoop Creative
Marketing & Media Consultant: Marty Higginbotham
Press Representative: Noreen Heron & Assoc.
Carpenter: Justin Longnecker
Master Electrician: Connery Macrae
Photography: Brandon Dahlquist
House Manager: Kelli Marino

* Denotes member, Actors' Equity Association

** Denotes member, Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers

Photo: Brandon Dahlquist

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