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Minneapolis by Ed Huyck

Emigrant Theater Kid-Simple

Kid-Simple
Ariel Dumas and Joe Swanson
Jordan Harrison's Kid-Simple should be a delight. It has an inspired premise, an engaging lead character, and a way of twisting expectations at every turn. Yet it ends up being too precious for its own good, giving the audience a small snack in place of a complete theatrical meal.

Kid-Simple turns on Moll, a young genius who, in the way it tends to happen in stories, explores and invents with little caution. She develops a device that can hear beyond the normal spectrum -- not just infrasonic, but the shadows of sounds past and future. This invention draws the attention of a pair of ancient dark forces, who send their top agent, called the Mercenary, to get the device from Moll. When he's successful, Moll sets out with a young friend, Oliver, on an arduous journey to the home of the dark creatures to get the device back.

It's more complicated than that, however. Running parallel with this is an old-time radio drama, which crosses over into the real world. A narrator details the events from the side of the stage, but finds herself drawn into the story as well. And a Foley artist, who provides a wild assortment of sound effects and cues during the 90-minute show, holds it all together.

Yet for all of its inventiveness, Kid-Simple is a rather cold journey. We never really feel for Moll's plight or understand her inspiration, so her journey to save the world feels rote, as if it is there because Harrison wanted to have this journey, not that there was any compelling reason for Moll to take it.

A cast of solid performers tries hard in the Emigrant production, anchored by Foley artist Mike Hallenbeck and Ariel Dumas as Moll. Jerome Yorke brings greasy charm to his various roles as the Mercenary and Sally Ann Wright is rock solid as the narrator. Given a rather thankless task - bind a show together while spending the entire time seated on the side of the stage - Wright does quite well.

The production has sparks of invention as well, from clever sound cues (one scene uses the Rolling Stones' "Miss You" as "make out music" anhd the cue is repeated when a satyr tries to woo young Oliver, but this time it is played on a pan flute) to a stage that brings the various scenes from the show to life. And director Sarah Gioia does a good job of binding all of these elements together.

No, after seeing the show twice - once at a small company and once at the Humana Festival in Louisville - it feels like the trouble is mainly Harrison's. There are tons of good ideas and intent in Kid-Simple, and it is a show I desperately want to like, but the elements never come together in a way that I really care about Moll or what is happening on stage. And without that, Kid-Simple becomes a show too clever for its own good.

Kid-Simple runs through Sept. 16 at the Mixed Blood Theatre, Minneapolis. For tickets and information, call 612-338-6131 or visit www.emigranttheater.org.


Photo: Emigrant Theater


- Ed Huyck



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