"The K of D" - An Urban Legend

World Premiere
January 16 – February 10, 2008
by Laura Schellhardt
directed by John Vreeke
featuring company member Kimberly Gilbert

Kimberly GilbertIn the Melton Rehearsal Hall, Woolly’s newest company member Kimberly Gilbert (Martha, Josie & the Chinese Elvis) brings an entire town to vivid life in this riveting supernatural fable. After a reckless car accident kills her twin brother, young Charlotte McGraw becomes a fascination to others when it appears she has received an eerie power from his dying kiss.  Over the course of a hot summer, a continuing chain of odd events leaves the residents of a small Ohio town stopped in its tracks – as they learn to fear the literal kiss of death beneath their everyday facades. 

Gilbert delivers a dazzling tour de force performance in this world premiere.

A Ghost Story Delight
'The K of D' Spins A Tent Full of Supernatural Tales

By Nelson Pressley
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, January 21, 2008; Page C05

C'mon, kids, scramble inside the tent for some spooky stories -- legends of a dead boy who comes back as a bird, of a prize-winning teacher who rubs out her competition, and more.

This is the stuff of Laura Schellhardt's engaging one-person drama "The K of D," billed as "an urban legend" and more or less grown-up, despite its playful premise. Director John Vreeke turns the cozy Melton Rehearsal Hall at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre into an oversize tent and, using proven ghost-story techniques -- flashlights and shadows, strange noises and portentous silences -- turns the show into a tour de force of what could be called campsite stagecraft.

Kimberly GilbertVreeke and set designer Marie-Noelle Daigneault daringly reduce the playing area to postage-stamp dimensions. Actress Kimberly Gilbert, spinning the yarn and portraying a dozen or so characters in a tiny western Ohio town, does it all on a space the size of a large rug.

Yet the room, ringed with sheets hung the way kids string up blankets as bedroom forts, is alive with sound and movement. Gilbert holds her own as a solo performer and yet never truly seems to be alone, so dynamic is the production around her.

The supernatural story digs in with the hit-and-run death of the mute main character's twin brother. Gilbert's reenactment is accompanied by squealing sound effects, blinding headlights and the boy's skateboard rolling into view, riderless and small comfort to his sister, Charlotte.

This is mainly Charlotte's story, the narrator points out at the top of "The K of D" (which stands for "the kiss of death," a shorthand phrase that eventually gives the tale its intrigue). The adolescent Charlotte is always hanging around with a pack of kids whom Gilbert renders in efficient strokes. Quisp is a hip-hop kid given to stiff-armed, wobbly-kneed body language that punctuates his emphatic speech. Becky is the boss girl, whom we recognize by her haughty attitude and two fingers holding a smoke; she has a wicked addiction to bubble-gum cigarettes.

There are more -- a kid who scribbles notes about everything that happens in town, a taciturn boy who takes a protective interest in Charlotte, plus sundry adults, from Charlotte's oddly matched parents to the punk across the way who ran down Charlotte's brother. For a while it's enough just to observe and admire this oddball gallery. Schellhardt is in no hurry to cut to the chase, and Gilbert -- given gender-neutral baggy clothing by Daigneault -- is understated yet magnetic as she weaves among these hayseed characters.

As the plot bides its time, it may seem that Vreeke has simply directed the heck out of an okay script. The plentiful sound effects by Matt Otto combine with Andrew F. Griffin's clever, shadowy lights and silhouettes in a tasteful low-budget spectacular.

Still, Schellhardt seems to know when it's time for the narrator to offer up some vivid incidents, and these sharp episodes pop up often enough to give the kids something to wonder at and deal with. The script also highlights (not to say telegraphs) certain phrases like choral refrains, alerting the audience to psychological implications while subtly paving the way for the inevitable final confrontation.

The twists aren't especially creepy or shocking, but it's easy to be satisfied with the sheer storytelling pleasure radiated by this unusual theatrical event. "I've got one," Gilbert's shy narrator says at the top as urban legends are being swapped. Indeed Gilbert does, with a little help from her friends in the dark.

Familiar Fodder: 
Three common premises, one that surprises

Review by Trey Graham

The K of D
By Laura Schellhardt
Directed by John Vreeke

Look, over there at Woolly Mammoth: A solo show crammed full of idiosyncratic characters, centered on a delicate, damaged young narrator endowed with stubborn, secret strength—a strength that’ll see her through to a second-act triumph over an adult tormenter. Original, no?

Kimberly GilbertNot especially. But if the shape of The K of D feels a tad familiar, writer Laura Schellhardt has a sharp eye for looking at a cruel world and an arresting way of putting her observations into words. Her jokes are scorpions, with sharp little stings in their tails; some of those characters might be types, but they’re indelibly sketched. Her evocative small-town vignettes will ring true to anybody who’s lived in a place like the Ohio backwater she describes (and intrigue anyone who hasn’t). And her heroine—a young girl named Charlotte, provided by love and tragedy with a frightful gift—is a singularly intriguing creation, if not a wholly singular one.

Played, like the other 14 characters in Schellhardt’s skein of unlikely yarns, by the protean Kimberly Gilbert, Charlotte’s a survivor, but only just. A twin, she’s lost her brother to a reckless driver; a daughter, she’s saddled with grotesques for parents. (Dad’s a short-tempered moron, Mom an obsessively competitive schoolteacher who shouldn’t be allowed within a mile of kids.) A loner at heart now, Charlotte still runs with the pack she and her brother once found a home in, though she seems always to be on its edges, observing.

From its somber start, The K of D travels to dark places indeed; it’s solo theater gone Southern Gothic, a Flannery O’Connor tale brought to life by one of its own characters. There’s a reincarnation, and a breathtakingly cruel death; there’s a wilding, and an act of mercy, and ultimately an act of self-defense that has the satisfying tang of revenge. With all such tales, there are glimmers of beauty amid the dark—flashes of charity, glimpses of grace.

Gilbert takes full advantage of the showcase Schellhardt provides her with that raft of quirky characters, shifting fluidly from one to the next, etching out distinct personalities for each. And John Vreeke’s eloquent, unfussy staging makes a moody bedsheets-and-shadows frame for a play that, with its dark-of-night climaxes and its dabblings in the supernatural, ends up feeling like a firelit campfire tale. Simple pleasures, those—and ultimately pretty satisfying, too.

Review by Trey Graham, City Paper

'Kiss' a tour de force

By Jayne Blanchard
January 21, 2008

Actress Kimberly Gilbert populates a Podunk town in Ohio with an Edgar Allan Poe-worthy gallery of scary characters in Laura Schellhardt's wryly macabre play "The K of D." The title is an acronym for "the kiss of death" and a silent and damaged little girl named Charlotte apparently has a lethal pucker — or so goes the urban legend surrounding her actions during one life-changing summer in a stifling lakeside burg. Charlotte's tale is mainly told by a character simply named the Girl, who spins a yarn in great, greedy gulps as if desperate to tell what she has seen and heard before she either runs out of steam or disappears herself.

Kimberly GilbertCharlotte lost her twin brother a short time ago in an accident involving "a rusty blue Dodge" and as legend has it, she kissed her broken sibling on the lips and whispered something to him before he died. In the mind of the Girl and her pack of friends, this moment seared her with a gift that is either heaven-sent or something more nefarious altogether. Pretty soon, all sorts of animals are passing over the Rainbow Bridge, Charlotte is getting quieter and quieter and the Girl just knows it will be a matter of time before another human is the recipient of her death kiss.

Charlotte gets her chance at the breaking point of a simmering feud between her parents — her haughty schoolmarm mother and good ol' boy father — and their mean, redneck neighbor Johnny Whistler, who just happened to be driving the Dodge that killed her brother. Whistler's comeuppance, which begins as a cheesy horror movie prank instigated by the Girl and her friends, is a mixture of the unsettling and darkly funny.

Miss Schellhardt's characterizations are rich and carefully observed, especially with the adolescents, who behave with the unself-conscious abandon of children unobserved by adults. We feel as though we are dropping into an insular world that is both innocent and dangerous. Director John Vreeke has before demonstrated his dexterity with word-dense plays and here he makes the language dance like water beads on a hot skillet.

Miss Gilbert shimmeringly portrays all 12 characters with protean ease, shifting from a motormouth street punk named Quisp (whose body language and homeboy bravado puts you in mind of a pubescent Eminem) to Steffi Post, a teenager infatuated with gore the way others her age worship the stars of "High School Musical." For the characters of the Girl and Charlotte, Miss Gilbert produces a luminous stare that unsettlingly hints these young girls have powers beyond the earthly realm.

The luscious spookiness Miss Schellhardt's modern-day ghost story is enhanced by Marie-Noelle Daigneault's set, which drapes the rehearsal hall in canvas sheets as if we are seeing a tent revival or a magic lantern show. Andrew F. Griffin's lighting effects and projections of leaves and trees and looming male figures add to the supernatural aura.

Miss Gilbert's tour de force performance and the way she effortlessly slips into one persona after another makes "The Kiss of Death" something to willingly embrace.


The K of D, an urban legend
Reviewed by David Siegel

Imagine this: you are Kimberley Gilbert, all alone in a very confined space that is dressed up to be a stage of sorts with sneakers on your feet and a full house of 70 people in folding chairs in front of you; waiting to be entertained by you alone. What do you do? If you are Gilbert, you make a bracing entrance and soon make your reputation in a tough theater town … a reputation as a fearless story teller in the very best tradition of magical realism. Gilbert is irresistible in this one-woman, multi-character rendition of Laura Schellhardt’s The K of D, An Urban Legend. It is a finely honed tale of modern day myth making as teenagers try to give sense and meaning to their lives … lives that are at once mundane yet are close witnesses to darkness and death. While playwright Schellhardt provides some fine bones for this dark campfire story, it is Gilbert who, along with some terrific technical work, gives immediacy, honesty and clarity to the characters. This is not Steven King improbable and flashy blood scenes, but closer to the bafflements and terrors of the great Latin American magical realism literature. The production is fresh and mesmerizing. Don’t be put off that this production is in the Woolly Mammoth Melton rehearsal hall. Come prepared for a fantastic journey.

Storyline: As told by a narrator, a mysterious and mournful tale in which an entire Ohio town is brought to life. After a reckless car accident that kills her twin brother, teenager Charlotte McGraw becomes a fascination to her friends and family when it appears that she has received an eerie power from her brother’s dying kiss … or then again, did she? As for the initials in the title, they mean the “Kiss of Death.”

It is fascinating that John Vreeke, the director of The K of D, is the same director whose most recent venture was the big budget, big cast, big-scale musical that was Olney’s Fiddler on the Roof. For The K of D , Vreeke’s vision is one of the microscopic and well thought-out nuance. He take a small rehearsal space and obscures its normal walls and florescent lighting so that the audience focuses not only on what is before them, but what they come to conjure in their minds. He has the production always pushing the story forward in a trim manner, there is little wasted time or effort. At times the story line is gently advanced and at other times it is roughly propelled, but the story line is always moving as at least 12 characters appear before you; moving, always moving, never still. Schellhardt’s script feels like an American Midwest version of the best of Latin American magical realism literature from some decades ago. It is wild, comic, at times puzzling, but always soulful and interesting. The script does not tip its hand until the final moments when the virtuous and righteous finally prevail in this wonderful, small scale adventure. Schellhardt currently teaches playwriting at Northwestern University. The K of D was work-shopped as part of the 2006 O’Neill National Playwright’s Conference in Connecticut.

Kimberly Gilbert is a wonder in her ability to seamlessly transform herself into at least 12 distinct characters in a nanosecond. She does not need to intellectually wrestle with the characters. She just inhabits them in a sharp-edged manner. No character roughly collides with another in the split-second it takes for Gilbert to move from one to another. She can be a pack of adolescents that includes several 15 year old girls and boys, each with their own distinctive personality and quirky mannerisms that become readily apparent whenever Gilbert becomes that character again throughout the production. Or she can be an overbearing mother or domineering father or even a slimy, disgusting, dog-killing neighbor who believes in cheap sex and cheaper women as live-ins. Gilbert has the ability to play most of them in a convincing manner not only because of a flawless line delivery, but because she has rubber for face and a bendable body that is elastic enough and asexually costumed to be either male or female but never androgynous. Finally, Gilbert does not have to “think” to get into each of the characters; there are no visible turning wheels in her eyes as she goes from one to another, she just becomes them.

The technical team behind this production are marvels at setting the stage. Marie-Noelle Daigneault has somehow concocted a small stage surrounded by hanging white sheets to give wing space as well as to cover the room’s institutional walls. Matt Otto’s pre-show mournful music is poignant with its voices of rough lives that “make a hard man humble.” His selection of sound effects from small chirping crickets to the eerie call of a heron, to the screeching of car brakes and barking dogs are all right there in your head in the small space and delivered on cue with the lighting and the text. Andrew F. Griffin’s light design makes one believe in birds flying across the room or a stranger at the door in the moonless darkness of a rainy night, let alone the fear of on-coming headlights. A skateboard, the only moving prop beyond Gilbert herself, has a recurring role and a place that makes total sense.

Written by Laura Schellhardt. Directed by John Vreeke. Design: Marie-Noelle Daigneault (set and costumes) Jennifer Sheez (properties) Andrew F. Griffin (lights) Matt Otto (sound) Stan Barouh (photography). Cast: Kimberly Gilbert.


Kimberly GilbertThe K of D
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 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 as well.

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, 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!” 

The K of D
 An Urban Legend
January 22, 2008
Review by Chris Klimek

“The thing about an urban legend is that it never happened to the person tellin’ it. It always happened to someone else.”

Kimberly Gilbert

So intones Kimberly Gilbert at the top of The K of D, Laura Schellhardt’s spooky, richly-layered mystery, now in its world-premiere run at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. The show is less a whodunit? than a whatthefuk?, though who-done-what is necessarily foremost on Gilbert’s mind: She plays all 12 of the play’s roles, hopscotching from the personages of goth queen Steffi Post to patrician English teacher Mrs. McGraw to strutting small-town terrorist Johnny Whistler — sometimes all in a single sentence — with only the tools of her voice and body to tell us who’s carrying the narrative baton in any particular moment. That Gilbert is able to pull this off without it seeming flashy or affected marks her as one of D.C.’s most prodigious onstage talents. (We should probably share the love with Assistant Director Jennifer Mendenhall, who is credited as Gilbert's dialect coach.)

Of course, it helps that Laura Schellhardt has delivered a script uniquely suited to the one-actor, many-parts treatment, one that brings a hazy but never sloppy ambiguity to the events of a long-ago summer in an East Ohio town “close to Indiana, and nothing else.” The title is shorthand for “The Kiss of Death,” but we’ll leave it there: Synopsis would only diminish this somber-but-hopeful tale of kids finding their own way in a world of absent, clueless, or disinterested adults.

And anyway, The K of D is at least as much a triumph of staging, tone and mood as it is of story. Director John Vreeke and designer Marie-Noelle Daigneault, working in Woolly’s cozy Rehearsal Hall, put the stage right up in the audience’s face. It’s framed by what look like bedsheets, which give the show a sort of school-play look. Naturally, this pseudo-amateurishness is the product of skilled pros working at the top of their game, sort of like how Wes Anderson's films work very hard to make real locations look like film sets and film sets look like community-theater stages. But even better are the show’s low-tech, high-impact methods of simulating a car crash and and flyover by a gigantic, possibly-supernatural heron, each one a leitmotif.

Keeping up with the prismatic tale’s frequent shifts in perspective is a bit of a workout for the audience, but one that pays off generously. You emerge with the feeling of having just been told a deeply satisfying campfire story. For the cold, cold nights of January, there’s nothing better. 

- Review by Chris Klimek, DCist

Schellhardt's Supernatural Fable, The K of D

By Kenneth Jones, Playbill
16 Jan 2008

The K of D, An Urban Legend, Laura Schellhardt's multi-character solo play performed by Kimberly Gilbert, plays Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company's Melton Rehearsal Hall Jan. 16-Feb. 10 in Washington, DC.

Kimberly GilbertActress Gilbert and director John Vreeke reunite following Woolly's 2006 hit Martha, Josie and the Chinese Elvis, for which they both received Helen Hayes Award nominations.

In the show, Woolly Mammoth acting company member Gilbert "brings an entire town to vivid life in this riveting supernatural fable," according to Woolly notes. "After a reckless car accident kills her twin brother, young Charlotte McGraw becomes a fascination to others when it appears she has received an eerie power from his dying kiss. Gilbert delivers a dazzling tour-de-force performance…"

"Laura Schellhardt's captivating play is such a perfect vehicle for our new company member, Kimberly Gilbert," Woolly artistic director Howard Shalwitz said in a statement. "And the possibility of tackling a more ambitious project in our rehearsal hall, and reuniting Kimberly with one of our favorite directors, John Vreeke, is irresistible. I'm thrilled to be premiering this dazzling and complex piece of writing — a big spooky story with lots of colorful characters, all performed by one great actress."

Schellhardt received her MFA in playwriting from Brown University under the direction of Paula Vogel. Her other works include The Chair, Courting Vampires, Shapeshifter, The Outfit (Jeff Award nominee), Inheritance, Je Ne Sais Quoi and Searching for Lochness. Her adaptations include The Phantom Tollbooth, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick and Creole Folktales.

The K of D, An Urban Legend was workshopped as part of the 2006 O'Neill National Playwright's Conference. Her play, The Chair, will receive a workshop at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence as part of the 2007-08 TCG Playwriting Residency. She is also the author of "Screenwriting for Dummies." She currently teaches playwriting at Northwestern University, and is the director of Northlight Theatre's education academy.

The design team for The K of D, An Urban Legend includes Marie-Noelle Daignealt (set and costume design), Andrew Griffin (lighting design), Matt Otto (sound design) and Jennifer Sheetz (properties).

-Kenneth Jones, Playbill


                          January 16 – February 10, 2008
                         Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8pm
                                      Sundays at 7pm

                               Melton Rehearsal Hall

PLEASE NOTE: There is no late seating for this show...

Due to the configuration of the performance space, LATE SEATING WILL NOT BE POSSIBLE FOR THIS SHOW. The performance will begin promptly at 8pm — please plan your visit accordingly.

Directions & Parking

Woolly Mammoth
641 D Street, NW (7th & D)
Washington, DC 20004

Nearby landmarks:

Woolly Mammoth is located in the bustling Penn Quarter neighborhood on D street between between Oyamel & Rasika restaurants, around the corner from TicketPlace and down the street from Shakespeare Theatre Company's Lansburgh theatre. We are two blocks north of the National Archives and National Gallery of Art and 2 blocks south of the Verizon Center (formerly the MCI Center) and the Smithsonian American Art Museum/Portrait Gallery.


Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter (Yellow & Green lines) — 1 block away
Gallery Place (Red, Yellow & Green lines) — 2 blocks away, use Verizon Center exit to 7th & F.


The 70, 71, D1, D3, and D6 buses stop at the corner of 7th & E.
The P1, P2, P6, 13A, 13B, 13F, 13G, and 54 buses stop at 7th & Pennsylvania.
Not all of these buses have the same route for both directions, so please use WMATA's Trip Planner at www.wmata.com


Interpark/Liberty Place, directly across from Woolly's entrance, offers a $10 rate if you mention you're going to Woolly Mammoth.

There is limited metered street parking in the Penn Quarter near Woolly Mammoth, in addition to the following parking garages:

  • Interpark Liberty Place, 325 7th St. NW. Open late during Woolly productions, $10 evening Woolly rate.*
  • Colonial Parking, 601 Pennsylvania Ave (entrance at 6th & C). Open until midnight Monday - Saturday and until 11 pm Sunday, $7 flat evening and weekend rate.*
  • Interpark, 616 E St NW. Open until 11pm Sunday - Friday and 1am Saturday, $9/hour (maximum $18).

* Limited facilities for mobility-impaired patrons; please click here for more information on accessibility.

Garage prices and hours subject to change without notice

Driving Directions

From Virginia via I-395: Take the 12TH STREET exit toward L'enfant Promenade. Take the ramp toward L'Enfant promenade .Turn right onto D ST SW. Turn left onto 7TH St SW. Turn RIGHT onto D ST NW.

From Virginia via I-66: Take I-66 into the District when it becomes US-50. Turn left onto 7th St NW. Turn right onto D St NW.

From Bethesda, Rockville, Potomac and points west: Reach Wisconsin Ave., NW via either Interstate 270 and River Road or Rockville Pike (which becomes Wisconsin Ave.) Remain on Wisconsin Ave. until reaching Massachusetts Ave., NW just south of the National Cathedral. Take Massachusetts all the way to 9th St. Turn right on 9th. Turn left on D St.

From Rt. 50, Baltimore and points east: Reach New York Ave., NE via either Rt. 50, I95 or the Baltimore Washington Parkway. Remain on New York Ave. all the way downtown to 6th St., NW. Turn left on 6th St. Turn right on D St.