Kid Simple anything but incomplex

BY JED MILLER | MARCH 5, 2009 7:19 AM

That the word “simple” is in the title of Kid Simple may be the biggest irony of the entire production.

Contrary to what the name might imply, there is nothing mindless about the play or its young protagonist, a 15-year-old girl struggling with the consequences of her novel invention. Kid Simple: A Radio Play in the Flesh will open at 8 p.m. today in the Theatre Building’s Thayer Theatre as the second play in the University Theatres Mainstage series this semester.

The play is a coming-of-age story about a girl named Moll, a teenage genius who wins her high-school science fair by inventing the Third Ear, a device that can pick up sounds inaudible to the human ear. With her new invention, people are able to hear sounds they didn’t know existed, including a dormouse sleeping, the song of a tree, or even a heart breaking.

Because such a device has a high market value, it is soon stolen. The play follows Moll on her quest to retrieve the Third Ear and save the world from its amazing, and potentially catastrophic, power.

Outside of Moll’s central story, there is a parallel plot line that follows the play’s omniscient narrator, who begins to lose control of the story she’s telling the audience. The third element in the play involves Moll’s parents listening to a radio drama, which eventually merges with their daughter’s adventure.

With more than 400 sound cues in the production — nearly all created live — the foley artist is the real star of the show. While the crew member responsible for a play’s sound effects typically does her or his work behind the scenes, Kid Simple’s foley artist stands center stage.

“The story itself is not what really carries the play — it’s almost like a pretext for what goes on,” said Jeff Porter, a UI English assistant professor and one of two dramaturges for the play. “This play is really about celebrating sound and trying to recover what is unique to sound —over and above words. It’s almost like the playwright is trying to pay homage to that which is always marginalized and forgotten, the sound before or beyond language.”

Kid Simple has typically been produced on college campuses and in big cities, and Porter cited the play’s complex, postmodern material as the reason it suits these types of audiences.

Jessica Bocade, a third-year M.F.A. theater student who plays the narrator, said she wants the play to entertain audiences despite its sometimes challenging nature. The strength of the show is its imagination, she said.

“I’m hoping [the play] has some universal themes that branch past college students,” she said. “It’s difficult in an iPod- and Internet-driven world to still cultivate your imagination. Hopefully, this show will do that.”

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