People sometimes say they’d see a favorite actress in anything. If Nicia Carla is on your list, “The K of D: An Urban Legend” is the anything you mean. She plays masterfully upon this slender reed of a story, sustaining tension virtually alone on stage for 75 minutes.
I say “virtually” because Chris Herring supplies crucial support: animal noises, night sounds, clicks and whistles in a private language. He speaks only to echo Carla or call the name “Charlotte” and often disappears, leaving her to play more than a dozen characters. Paperhouse Theatre’s co-founder gives a bravura performance, like a chef whipping up a souffle from one egg and air.
She begins Laura Schellhardt’s play by telling us she’s not Charlotte McGraw, though we have reason to believe she’s lying. The adult narrator goes back to her childhood, when 12-year-old Charlotte saw her twin brother fatally struck by the car of a verminous neighbor. In kissing her dying sibling on the mouth, he somehow passed her the ability to slay with a touch of her lips.
The play takes place near a man-made lake, perhaps a symbol of still waters that run deep in Charlotte. The title refers to her “kiss of death.” By dubbing this an urban legend, Schellhardt encourages us to wink at this supernatural power, though the narrator’s account suggests it’s real.
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The author doesn’t develop characters, and nasty neighbor Johnny Whistler sneers and scowls as we wait for Charlotte to give him a graveyard smooch. He exudes lowbrow creepiness, which makes his live-in relationship with an English teacher tough to believe.
But we can tolerate the improbable in a spooky story, and this one’s a tour de force for the right actress. That’s Carla, who can embody a character with a gurgling laugh or anxious squeal.
She worked mostly at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte in the ’00s but has spent the last couple of years mainly at Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte and PaperHouse. You get the sense, watching her, that she has a universe of characters inside, waiting to emerge. They come and go in “The K of D,” briefly but clearly illuminated, like fireflies on a summer night.