Playwright: Jordan Harrison
At: American Theater Company,
1909 W. Byron
Phone: ( 773 ) 929-1031; $25-$30
Runs through: March 20
Somewhere, buried deep inside the revving, vroom, vroom, look-at-me, attention deficit disordered heart of Kid Simple is a story. But that story is buried so deeply under technical brouhaha and bells and whistles that even the most experienced gravedigger would be hard pressed to find it. That story, about an adolescent girl genius's longing for love and acceptance thwarted by her own intellect, is one that might elicit some sympathy and even empathy from an audience. But playwright Jordan Harrison and director Damon Kiely have eschewed the human in favor of the technical, and have chosen special effects over compassion and drama. On the surface, Kid Simple would seem to have little in common with today's Hollywood blockbusters, those celluloid worlds where the next car chase or fireball matters more than what people say or mean to each other, but it does. This is theater as conceit, a play that is like the kid so hungry for attention he'll go to any lengths to get it.
Here we have the story of Moll ( Gwendolyn Whiteside ) , a teenage girl whose superior brain power has isolated her from her peers, so she spends a lot of time with her parents, listening to nourish, existential dramas on the radio and working on her own inventions, one of which, the Third Ear, is capable of "hearing the unhearable." The Third Ear becomes the target of a nefarious mercenary ( Matthew Brumlow, looking very buff, sexy, and Pan-ish ) whose designs on the machine lead him to seducing the brilliant but naïve Moll in order to procure her machine. A major hole in the plot is that we're never really clued in as to why he wants the machine. The disappearance of the machine leads Moll on a wannabe fabulous adventure to retrieve it. For support, she brings along her nerdish and sexually ambiguous best pal. The storyline, narrated by Suzanne Petri, really doesn't bear a lot more description because it's definitely a lower priority than the gee-whiz sound effects, provided by a 'Foley' man inhabiting a big eye-catching, flashing lights machine.
Kid Simple is technically ingenious. It's the kind of set and sound design that makes you gasp in surprise and gaze in near childlike wonderment at the innovation that it must have taken to bring it to theatrical life.
And that's not enough. Kid Simple may have a third ear, but it doesn't have a heart ( it does, though have beating heart sound effects ) . And without a heart, all the tech wizardry in the world can't make it sympathetic, or even … interesting.