It’s been said that radio dramas are the “theater of the mind,” since it is all auditory. And that definition rings true when the plays, such as Orson Welles’ famous Martian invasion broadcast, actually create another world one can enter.
On the other hand, there are radio stories, complete with sound effects, that don’t quite deliver the goods. Call it the “theater of the never mind.” And that is the case with Kid Simple by Jordan Harrison, now at convergence-continuum.
Centered on a most intriguing concept, the play veers off into uncharted territory. And that could be a good thing. But due to one less than inspired performance and fuzzy direction by Geoffrey Hoffman, the whole enterprise basically (sfx: bowling ball dropped into a box of wet mud).
Yes, sound effects are the one constant element in this “radio play,” with two Foley artists (Lisa L. Wiley and sade wolfkitten) operating a variety of noisemakers to provide an aural medium for the action in front of them. And while some of their sounds are quite inventive (a squeaky balloon for erotic impulses), many are more mundane and, what’s worse, ill-timed.
These sfx are in the service of a story that gets short shrift. Moll is a young student saddled with the usual half-ass parents who has invented “The Third Ear” for her science fair project. It can hear sounds that are un-hearable, such as grass growing and hearts breaking. Cool.
But instead of following that interesting thought where it might lead, the playwright goes all Boris and Natasha with the idea, having a mercenary spy intrude on Moll’s space and then two shadowy figures stealing the invention. As a result, Moll goes off to rescue her Third Ear, accompanied by Oliver, a teenage virgin.
This is played in counterpoint with another radio drama called “The Death of the Music Teacher” featuring another hostile figure, a foreign baddie named Wachel (a properly sinister Robert Hawkes).
Sure it’s all weird and fun. And it might work given a more adventurous production. But this con-con effort plays it safe where it shouldn't.
In the key role of Moll, Layla Schwartz never takes chances to deliver on the eccentric intelligence of a young prodigy. Drifting through her scenes, using her constant smile as a replacement for more appropriate facial expressions, Schwartz doesn’t challenge assumptions or engage her character in any interesting way.
Much better is Clint Elston as Oliver, reeking with flop sweat. And Tom Kondilas is a treat as the mercenary in his many disguises, including impersonating Moll herself.
True to the form, there is a narrator played by Laura Starnick, and she handles her duties with panache, including some meta references to herself.
But director Hoffman doesn’t knit all the sound effects seamlessly into the action. This is particularly evident towards the end, when the sounds are meant to replace words in the dialog. That demands precise timing that is just absent, as if a week of rehearsals went missing.
Kid Simple is a promising play in search of a tight, precise and imaginative production. And while there are some interesting performances, a vacuum at the center makes it all go (sfx: water gurgling down a drain).
Kid Simple: A Radio Play in the Flesh
Through October 27 at The Liminis, produced by convergence-continuum, 2438 Scranton Road, 216-687-0074