At Seattle Rep: One chameleon actor, 17 roles

Jan 17, 2011

Actor Renata Friedman has a distinct look that sometimes cost her roles when she was in college.

"I wasn’t the traditional cute, beautiful blond girl who would be Juliet or Ophelia. I got cast as Hamlet. And did Richard II. I was always playing men. There were times that I resented that and would have loved to have played a little love story and have a stage kiss," she says.

But nothing showcases Friedman's talent quite like "The K of D, an urban legend," which is now in performance at Seattle Repertory Theatre.

The play takes audiences on a psychological journey. A girl's twin brother has died in an accident. But just before his death, she kissed him. Is she evil?

The story, set in small town Ohio, is told through 17 characters. Friedman plays all of them.

The characters range in age from a middle-aged man to a girl in her young teens.

The character Steff is the innocent one. She’s almost like a small animal. She likes to grab her knees.

"Oh my god, that man is like a total monster. I mean, he’s the kind of person you read about in the papers," Friedman says, slipping into character, using a high-pitched, nasally voice.

Then there's Brett, whose dad is the sheriff. He carries a reporter’s notebook.

Friedman as Brett, in a very matter-of-fact, authoritative voice: "Alright people. Trent and I interrogated everyone who witnessed the accident. And we already got the facts. Ain’t that right, Trent?"

Friedman is tall and super-skinny and previous theater reviews have described her looking like Olive Oyl.

"I am so slender and I have these sort of squid-like appendages. My hands are huge. And I have these long fingers and I tend to fold up a lot like this. I'm very bendy," she says.

But Friedman says her look, since college at New York University, has served her well.

"I feel like I can create a lot of different people with this body."

Braden Abraham is the play's director. He says Friedman is a remarkable shape shifter, especially in this play. But she also has to juggle knowing who each character is speaking to. It's part of creating the magic on stage.

"And that's really tricky," he says.

It's also physically exhausting. By the end of the show, Friedman is spent. So she's asked: How do you unwind?

"That’s the funny thing about a solo show. Most of the time for regular plays we all hang out in one person’s dressing room. Maybe have a little whisky. But with a solo show, it's very lonely. It's just me. So I just go home and have a cup of tea, or something."

Friedman loves the performing challenge. When she first read Laura Schellhardt's script, it felt as if the play had been written just for her.

"I mean even down to just the most basic physical description. The central character of the play is called Skinny Charlotte McGraw."

And Friedman also had an appreciation for small towns and its characters. She grew up in Port Townsend, full of creative types, and her parents’ artist friends always encouraged her to be a performer. She watched films six times a week: Dad owns the Rose movie theatre.

 “The K of D" won Seattle ACT Theater’s New Play award in 2006. Friedman believed so strongly in the play, she asked her Port Townsend community for money so she could produce it. It had runs on Capitol Hill and then later, at the New York International Fringe Festival.

Now the Rep is handling the production and all Friedman has to focus on is bringing an entire town to life.

Becky Ray is the bad-ass girl who smokes.

Friedman, in a voice that echoes Lauren Bacall: "I mean talking about this is just a dead-end street. And if I wanted another one of those in my life, Quispo, I’d just spend a few seconds staring into your eyes."

Even in an empty dressing room, Friedman is able to whisk you away to a different world -- one character at a time.

"The K of D, an urban legend" plays at Seattle Repertory Theatre through Feb. 20. More information is available at the play's website.