“Kid-Simple: A Radio Play in the Flesh” is, in short, mesmerizing. Thoughtfully directed by Michael Leibenluft ’10, “Kid-Simple” tells the story of Moll (Tessa Williams ’10), a feisty teenage girl and the most brilliant inventor of her generation, who also happens to love the Mystery Radio Nostalgia Hour. After her invention of “The Third Ear,” a machine for detecting sounds that can’t be heard — the sound of toenails growing on a field mouse, the sound of wind breaking — is stolen by The Mercenary (Jesse Kirkland ’12), Moll sets out on a journey with her friend Oliver (Sam Bolen ’10), the last boy virgin in the 11th grade, to retrieve it. As their journey progresses, the world of radio begins to encroach on their reality until one is indistinguishable from the other. Running an hour and forty-five minutes without intermission, “Kid-Simple” flies by as sounds and actions collide, creating a compelling piece of theater.
“Kid-Simple” is full of distinctly developed characters who would easily fall into the realm of caricature if not for the solid and extremely well crafted performances of each cast member. Tully McLoughlin ’11 and Alexandra Trow ’09 are lovely to watch as they transform from characters in a radio show to worried parents of a missing daughter to hooded figures of mystery. Kirkland is marvelous as The Mercenary, who through his shape shifting plays everything from an aged shopkeeper to a hyper-sexual tree, and Bolen’s Oliver is funny, moving, awkward and sexy all at once. The changing identities of most of the actors are juxtaposed with the two constants: the narrator and Moll. Cordelia Istel ’10 as the narrator brings originality and emotion to a less-than-original character, and Williams as Moll, alternately fuming and being brilliant, creates an honest, truthful character from a cartoon. Everything is overseen and ostensibly conducted by the omnipresent and extremely talented foley artist, Jackie Bruleigh ’11, who, stationed on a raised platform above the actors, seems to play God in the universe of “Kid-Simple.”
The show itself is any Yale student’s playground. Filled with ideas just beyond the realm of comprehension and esoteric words that English majors will be thrilled to hear, “Kid-Simple” is just begging for thought, analysis and intellectual curiosity. The play delves into the nature of stories, examining how humans tell them as well as how humans need them. Through all this, sound is the most powerful presence. From the inception of the play, sound is more than a series of noises; it is a character, a force — perhaps the most powerful one in the play. Sound carries the play from comedy to drama to mystery, in each of these playing a startlingly different role.
A line between reality and fantasy, so defined at the outset, becomes more and more blurred, sped along by commercial interludes and a precisely over-staged physicality held by all of the characters. This line ultimately comes crashing down with, fittingly, a fantastic sound effect. As this climax is reached, speech and sound intermingle until there is really no difference between the two.
Visually, “Kid-Simple” is a tribute to the power of stories to create magic from nothing. Where the play is rich in sound, it is stark in light, typically with only a spotlight illuminating the stage. The scene is often thrust into darkness so that sound is all that is distinguishable. The light could be deemed a metaphor for the play itself: darkness with dim spots of illumination. The set too embodies this theme, managing to be both cluttered and barren. In this setting, the actors and sound together bring the play to new worlds and new heights.
At the heart of the play lie the ideas of sacrifice, creation and human boundaries. As Moll gives more and more of herself to her creation, both literally and figuratively, the play continually asks, “How much is too much?” In one of the most memorable moments, Oliver tells Moll, “You are the mad scientist and the monster. You are your own Frankenstein.” These ideas give the play depth — layers that the sound, lights and acting uncover.
“Kid-Simple” is an auditory and visual feast for the imagination. The Dramat has created a breathtaking, memorable and utterly fantastic journey that is more than well-worth taking.
A talkback with playwright Jordan Harrison will take place following the matinee performance Saturday.