A light homage to old radio shows, 1950s science fiction, and young-adult mystery novels, Kid Simple follows the adventures of a girl genius named Moll. She invents a machine that can hear the unhearable, then loses it (plus her heart and her virginity) to a professional thief. Stung but indefatigable, Moll treks and invents and declaims her way through a long—and sometimes plodding—journey to get her invention back.
Playwright Jordan Harrison has set Kid Simple in a campy version of the 1950s, and his language apes the era's weird confluence of florid and punchy. ("Kid simple!" is Moll's plucky way of making the impossible sound easy.) Harrison has sprinkled his play with ads for hot dogs (they provide every vitamin and mineral because "they contain almost everything"), episodes from a radio drama called Death and the Music Teacher, and breathless descriptions of Moll's machine: It can hear "the toenails growing on a field mouse" and "the essence inside of an accident." The play, which premiered at the 2004 Humana Festival, is too in love with its flights of fancy—sprawling and unnecessarily complicated, it bogs down in all its components and subplots. Making it across Kid Simple's finish line feels, at times, like a chore.
The production is similarly uneven. Alexis Holzer as Moll never manages to flip her character's gee-whiz sincerity into comedy. Instead, she seems transplanted from some overemphatic production at a children's theater. Supporting ensemble actors Desiree Prewitt and James Weidman catch the script's ironies best, and Raymond L. Williams ably carps and trembles as Moll's roly-poly sidekick (and the only virgin left in the 11th grade).
Comparisons are odious, but it's a struggle to watch Kid Simple without thinking of Sgt. Rigsby & His Amazing Silhouettes. The Sgt. has already mastered quick-and-dirty satire of Hardy Boys novels and radio-days bombast. Kid Simple has not.