Laura Schellhardt

A Wild Card in The Pack

Advertised as an “urban legend,” while noting that most urban legends take place somewhere rural, Laura Schellhardt’s The K of D, the first of the three plays currently playing in repertory at The Yale Summer Cabaret, regales us with a tale told by an unnamed local of the town of St. Mary’s in western Ohio, near Indiana.  It’s the kind of out-of-the-way setting that has long inspired tellers of supernatural, or at least creepy, occurrences, and the story draws us in by means of that familiar association. The kids, known as “The Pack,” who hang out on the dock of a man-made lake, and amuse themselves with comments about the neighborhood, are also familiar types.  As the narrator says, each has a role: there’s the mouthy leader, who is the oldest and brawniest if far from brainiest; the nerdy son of a cop who writes everything down; the wise-beyond-her-years girl who specializes in snarky sarcasm and bubblegum cigarettes (later traded for Pall Malls); the giddy airhead; the quiet one (the narrator), and so on. Then there are the two kids—the McGraws—that the story is really about.

Twins, Jamie and Skinny Charlotte McGraw communicate via a private language of whistles and clicks, and seem harmless if odd until Jamie meets his untimely death—witnessed by The Pack—while trying to jump a road’s white line on his skateboard.  He is run over by the local sociopath, Johnny Whistler, and before he dies he bestows a kiss on Charlotte.  Quisp, the leader of The Pack, hazards that seeing that kiss “may have scarred me for life.”  When mice and rabbits start turning up dead but otherwise unharmed, The Pack conjectures that Charlotte received “the K of D” (or kiss of death) from her brother.

The play then focuses on the efforts by The Pack to take some kind of revenge on Johnny, who easily intimidates the entire neighborhood, especially his neighbors—the McGraws. This couple, not exactly in mourning over their dead son, could easily be the subject of some dark gossip in their own right.  An early story about Mr. McGraw chopping down a branch his son was clinging to inspires some expectations on that score, but they later become figures of fun, primarily, with Mrs. McGraw fretting constantly about whether or not she will be “teacher of the year” at the local school.

The most fascinating thing about the play is that the entire cast of 17 characters is enacted by one person.  Monique Barbee gives a wonderfully lively and engaging performance as literally everyone.  The quick associative sketches that bring a character to life—a manner of speaking, of body language, of voice—are nimbly employed to give us an immediate purchase on each person.  If the characters are a bit too easy to conjure, that’s Schellhardt’s intention.  Barbee allows us to see the characters as deliberate caricatures on the part of the narrator, and that helps to sell us on The Pack’s telltale mannerisms.

Barbee and director Tanya Dean (co-artistic director of the Summer Cab this year) establish a consistency for the kids that lets us recognize them at once—the voices for Quisp and Hoffman, the cop’s son, are particularly comic.  Where things get a little thin is with the McGraws.  I’m not convinced that Schellhardt herself knows exactly who these people are, and so there seems too much latitude in how we should read them.  Mr. McGraw, in particular, goes from being very unsympathetic to somewhat sympathetic, and a bit more seems required to make that transition work.

Barbee is especially good as Johnny, adopting a truly threatening evenness of tone and a dead expression that immediately suggests the kind of guy who takes pleasure in making people uncomfortable.  We don’t doubt that he’s also probably rather attractive, at least in his own mind.  But the best part of Barbee’s performance, and the reason why she is perfect for the play, is her version of the main role—the storyteller who insists that an urban legend is never about the teller.  Barbee has a way of maintaining a look that knows more than she says, and it’s that “cat that ate the canary” expression that keeps us riveted by the storyteller—for we want very much to know what she knows.  As The Pack’s “wild card,” the storyteller’s role in what happens remains to be determined.

The set is a realistic and rough-hewn dock set in the midst of clutter found in an attic or Old Curiosity Shop, giving us the sense of a story taking shape for us out of a background of the random stuff of our lives.   Lighting, by Solomon Weisbard, helped to keep the visuals varied, but seemed at times a little out of phase, as Barbee’s face, which is where this entire tale is taking place, gets awkwardly shadowed a few times.   The use of sound, in Matt Otto’s design, is an effective aid to the tale—giving us screeching tires, the thudding whir of a heron that may be Jamie’s spirit returned, the clicks and whistles of the private language, and at times, very eerily, the disembodied laughter of children.

The Summer Cab’s theme this year is storytelling, and with this fascinating raconteur they have established the power of spinning yarns.  Whatever meaning you finally find in this tale of dysfunction, death, revenge, and juicy gossip, one thing is certain: you will hang on the storyteller’s every word and gesture.  And Monique Barbee makes that experience very rewarding indeed.

 

Yale Summer Cabaret

50 Nights: A Festival of Stories

June 20-August 19 at The Yale Cabaret

The K of D: An Urban Legend By Laura Schellhardt Directed by Tanya Dean Cast: Monique Barbee

July 7th: 2 pm; 14th: 1 pm; 18th: 8 pm; 20th: 8 pm; 26th: 8 pm; 28th: 8 pm; 29th: 8 pm August 4th: 8 pm; 10th: 8 pm; 11th: 1 pm; 16th: 8 pm; 17th: 8 pm

What's The Story?

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All the world tells stories.  Some for entertainment, some as explanation, some for identification, some for cautionary purposes.  Some are called escapist, some are called educational.  Some are called fables, fairy tales, myths, tall tales, urban or rural legend.  Some are based on what happened, some are about things that could never happen, some imagine things that might happen.  Some are about things happening right now. When Reynaldi Lolong, a third-year Theater Managing student at Yale School of Drama, asked Tanya Dean, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Drama and a 2011 MFA in Dramaturgy, to meet with him at Chocopologie for a casual chat about his ideas for a 2012 Yale Summer Cabaret proposal, they immediately clicked in their love of a variety of fictional fare: comix, sci fi stories, Dr. Who episodes, tales of the supernatural, as well, of course, as Shakespeare and classic theater.  What they quickly established is that what they love best in all these genres is the story itself, the tale to be told.  They also agreed that the Cabaret “is the perfect venue for celebrating storytelling.”

Finding themselves “increasingly obsessed” with a search for stories that became “enjoyably all-consuming,” Reynaldi and Tanya consulted colleagues at the YSD and came up with a letter of intent for three theatrical experiences that will run in repertory throughout the summer.  It didn’t hurt that Reynaldi, the Producer this year, was the Director of Marketing for last year’s Summer Cab, nor that Tanya has been involved in some capacity in a total of thirteen regular season Cab shows.

All three shows of 50 Nights: A Festival of Stories will be up by the end of the first week of the season, which begins June 20th, with a show per night, and two shows performed each Saturday, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., throughout the run of 8 weeks, or 50 nights.  There will also be two marathon Saturdays—July 14 and August 11—on which all three plays will be staged (at 1, 4, and 8).

First up, June 20 to August 17, is Laura Schellhardt’s The K of D (short for “Kiss of Death”), a one-woman play featuring Monique Bernadette Barbee as sixteen different characters in a rural Ohio town.  Directed by Tanya Dean, the play explores the kind of legends that small communities can sustain, with flights that are both funny and frightening, involving both tragedy and youthful high spirits.  Can a kiss from a dying brother give a young girl the power to kill with a kiss?

Next, June 22 to August 18, Of Ogres Retold.  The play is the brain-child of YSD designing genius Adam Rigg (also the scenic designer for the Summer Cab this season) who uses several Japanese folktales as the basis for this original piece of puppet theater, with a cast of five, involving other-wordly creatures and a sense of the mysterious, the macabre, the monstrous and the miraculous.

Finally, June 23 to August 19, Mary Zimmerman’s The Secret in the Wings, directed by Margot Bordelon, uses the full cast of six actors for this intriguing revisiting of fairy tales.  A journey into the world of “once upon a time,” in a play that weaves together strange and strangely familiar elements from childhood, as a young girl experiences an unsettling night with an unusual sitter who regales her with tales of menace and magic.

As Reynaldi says, each Summer Cabaret is in dialogue with previous years, and the 2012 version builds on last year’s repertory offering of three shows with a dedicated team of actors.  This year there will be six actors, with each actor performing in two of the shows.  The main difference is that there will be one set for all three shows, a versatile playing space able to transform the Cab into the environment needed for each unique play.  Tanya describes the basic set as a kind of “cabinet of curiosities” adaptable to the dock on a lake for K of D, the props and costumes discovered in the course of The Secret in the Wings, and the projection surfaces for the “Victorian macabre” of Ogres Retold.  The doorway into the Cab this summer is like the door of the wardrobe into Narnia, a passage into a world of  surprises, secrets and summer wonder.

Additionally, selected performances throughout the summer will be followed by the Fireside Series, a reading of stories under the stars, with an opportunity to chat with others about the show, and to hear firsthand some of the tales that have been incorporated into the plays.  The Series will recreate that familiar locus of storytelling: the camp fire, and, if it rains, there will be ghost stories with flashlights inside the Cab.

And once again the Summer Cab will boast the cuisine of Anna Belcher of Anna’s on Orange.  There will be light fare, snacks and beverages beginning at 12:30 for the 2 p.m. shows and full dinner beginning at 6:30 for the 8 p.m. shows.  For info, tickets, schedule visit: http://summercabaret.org/.  This year there’s also a blog with behind-the-scenes notes, chat with the production team, and ongoing updates about production and performances, at: http://50nights.wordpress.com/

And, if you like what you see on the site, consider helping the Summer Cab to meet it’s goal of $4,500.  At the link below there is a pledge drive, with various rewards even for minimal contributions of $5—every little bit helps, so don’t hesitate, stress Reynaldi and Tanya, to give whatever you can.  And the Summer Cab Board, a highly supportive and enthusiastic group, have agreed to a two for one deal: so whatever you pledge will be matched by them.  If pledgers meet the goal, that means a total of $9,000 for production, money you will see on the stage.  So, if the thought of stories, creatively told in an intimate performance space by gifted theater students, thrills you, get in on this early and help Reynaldi and Tanya meet their goal.

http://www.rockethub.com/projects/7673-50-nights-a-festival-of-stories