It’s not your usual high school play, that’s for sure.
“The K of D: An Urban Legend” by Laura Schellhardt opens Thursday at the Helena High School Little Theatre.
The award-winning dark comedy runs for three performances only, 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday.
Director Justin Olson, English and drama teacher at Capital High, first saw the play performed by the Seattle Repertory Theatre. “It blew me away,” he said. “It was fantastic.”
He thought it would be perfect staged on Helena High’s more intimate stage. Although the play was originally written for one woman playing 17 roles, Olson adapted it to be performed by 16 actors and thought it would make a great crosstown play.
This is the high schools’ second crosstown play of the school year.
“They like the play a lot,” said Olson of the student cast and crew. “It’s an edgier play. It’s the edgiest one we’ve done this year. It’s definitely for mature audiences, 14 years and up.”
It tells the story of Charlotte McGraw, a 12-year-old girl struggling to come to terms with the death of her twin brother, Jamie. It also follows the growing “legend” of Charlotte McGraw, as narrated by a pack of teenagers who live near Charlotte on a man-made lake in rural St. Marys, Ohio.
The playwright has described her play as a modern ghost story, as told through urban legend, which takes place in a “down-and-out Anytown USA.”
As with all great legends, truth and fiction become inextricably linked in this play until the blurring of the two is no longer important.
“The truth is that Charlotte’s brother was hit by a car and died in her arms,” writes Schellhardt. “The truth is that moments before he died, he kissed her gently on the lips.
“The legend is that everything Charlotte kissed from that moment forward also died. ‘The K of D’ opens with the discovery of her new found ‘skill’ … ”
The story unfolds when the man who killed her brother returns to town.
“The play is only five or six years old,” said Olson. “We were able to get the rights to do a show that is usually only done at big rep companies in big cities.”
And in the case of this play, these productions have garnered a lot of positive press from theater critics. It’s also won both writing and acting awards.
“It’s very intelligent, said Olson. “It’s a really well-written play.
“It’s something that high schools don’t typically put on,” he added. “It’s something that they can stretch themselves as both a cast and crew.”
Tara Bates, a Helena High School senior, portrays The Girl, the narrator of the story. It’s a very important role since Charlotte lost her ability to speak when Jamie was killed.
“I like her personality,” said Bates of The Girl. “She has a funny, strange sense of humor.” The Girl’s identity is never spelled out, but there’s several ideas of who she could be.” Bates leaves it to the audience to figure it out.
“I think the audience will like it,” Bates said. “It’s got a bunch of different plot twists.”
Clarissa “Alanna” Matheny, a HHS junior, plays Charlotte. “I am mute,” she says of her character, which she describes as “timid and passive most of the show. It’s nice to have the challenge of getting the point across without speaking.”
The play requires the audience to think things through, she said. “There are a lot of mysteries.
“I think it’s a great show that has a great message to send out,” said Matheny. “No matter what you go through, you can rise above the people who are putting you down.”
Josiah Romo, a HHS senior, portrays antagonist Johnny Whistler, a character he describes as “despicable.”
“He’s a terrible human being. He oozes creep, jerk and terror. … Basically, if you walk out of the theater and if you don’t hate him, you probably are him.
“It’s definitely one of those shows you’ve got to think a little about,” Romo said. “It’s not all laid out for you. ... It’s a mind-bending play.”
Romo really likes that this is a crosstown production by both schools. “It’s really awesome to work with another school.”
And despite things like sports rivalries between the schools, the theater students enjoy collaborating on plays. “We work really well together. It’s a really great way to show community.
“The theater is a place where people can open up their shell by being someone else,” Romo said.
“I echo what Josiah said,” said Olson. “The crosstown play allows us to share talent and resources. It takes a village to put on a good production. It’s a way to get more quality than if we do it alone.”
Tickets are $5 and are available at the door.