Jordan Harrison’s “Kid-Simple” doesn’t start off promisingly. It ends rather badly, too. But the in-between is worth a look, and Damon Kiely’s direction for American Theater Company makes the most of the play’s strongest elements. Moll (an intense and precise Gwendolyn Whiteside) is a teenage inventor who has devised a kind of super-ear mechanism that can pick up sounds of the minutest proportions. She is seduced by a shape-shifting mercenary (Matthew Brumlow, very funny and versatile here) who steals her invention on behalf of a duo known as the Dark Dwellers, whom we only see as red laser dots dancing across a screen hung above the stage. That screen is also used for text projections, on which all the Foley cues (performed by Scott Iseri) are spelled out nice and clear: “Sound of a creative din” or “Sound of an unpromising mechanical whirl.” The script, smug and full of busyness, is far too impressed with its intricate construction—like the kid who feels the need to constantly point how just how clever he is. And yet somehow the play eventually breaks through to the other side, when the overabundance of shtick becomes so ludicrous, it’s funny. A pleasantly off-kilter sense of humor emerges, revealing an eccentric, R-rated children’s story with Moll as a post-feminist Nancy Drew riot grrrl who is equal parts MacGyver, Encyclopedia Brown and the Nutty Professor. Too bad Harrison smashes it all to pieces with a final scene that needlessly abandons the self-satisfied whimsy in favor of something earnest. The play is considerably more meaningful—and comedic—when it doesn’t try so hard. (Nina Metz)
This production is now closed.