Playwright Laura Schellhardt tells a slick and mysterious little story in her play "The K of D: An Urban Legend."
The taut narrative is not wholly remarkable, but the telling plays extraordinarily well through vivid characterizations by two virtuosos. In the meticulous new production at the B Street Theatre, Tara Sissom and Jason Kuykendall play the dozen characters of St. Marys, Ohio, where the play unfolds over the course of a summer.
Sissom plays "the girl who does most of the talking," which would be the play's narrator, and also skinny Charlotte McGraw "who no longer speaks" but is one of the play's central figures. Kuykendall inhabits most of the other characters. The two actors shape-shift before our eyes into a gallery of small-town types who are well-known to each other. Taken as a group they form the insular hermetic community.
As Sissom's narrator climbs around Samantha Reno's woodsy poetic lake-dock set, she tells Charlotte's story that begins with her skateboarding twin brother Jamie being accidentally run over by local bully Johnny Whistler.
Schellhardt displays a deft hand creating the small-town sensibility among her characters while also building
the urban legend mythology out of the commonplace tragedy. The killing is told from various points of view, but everyone agrees Jamie seemed to unnaturally fly through the air after the car hit him; and Charlotte was changed forever after kissing her dying brother.
The local urban legend that grows out of Jamie's dying claims that Charlotte kissed him during his last breath and now she has a power the kiss of death. Soon after the accident, unexplainable odd things begin happening in and around the small town, such as dead animals being found in strange arrangements near the lake.
The kids helping to tell the story are a benign pack of bored teenagers thrown together because they live where they live. Quisp Drucker, a mouthy big talker, Becky Ray Voss, a sassy girl who smokes bubble gum cigarettes, and Steffi Post, a comically innocent girl who romanticizes violence, are suddenly galvanized when Whistler reappears in town.
There's no mistaking Whistler as the story's villain, and he's drawn in such broad strokes that his character simplifies the dynamics more than he adds tension. Kuykendall is especially effective as Whistler, pulling a dirty baseball cap low over his eyes while darkening the tone of his voice into a throaty sneer.
Sissom simultaneously slips in and out of other characters, flipping her hoodie over her head then pushing it back as she seamlessly guides the story along.
There are strongly rendered sound and lighting effects from the team of technical director Steven Schmidt and lighting designer Ron Madonia.
Director Jerry Montoya intelligently spins the tale with confident theatricality.
The brilliant performances will stay with you long after the story has faded away.
The K of D: An Urban Legend
Three 1/2 stars
What: Tara Sissom and Jason Kuykendall star in the theatrical storytelling mystery.
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays, 2 and 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 5 and 9 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 11
Where: B Street Theatre Mainstage, 2711 B St., Sacramento
Tickets: $23-$35, $5 student rush
Information: (916) 443-5300, www.bstreettheatre.org
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes including one intermission.