- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2007

Music and concert videos burbling from cell phones as well as the ubiquitous IPod provide constant personal soundtracks to our lives. What about shared sound, the things we hear together or think we hear?

The art of noise is the focus of Jordan Harrison’s wholly original “Kid-Simple: A Radio Play in the Flesh,” a blend of old-fashioned aural narrative and new technology stunningly staged by Forum Theatre and Dance at Round House Silver Spring with an intense appreciation for both the classical and experimental by director Jessica Burgess.

“Kid-Simple” supplies ample visual stimulation, but much of the delight can be found in the auditory realm. The cautionary fairy tale — essentially, don’t mess with Mother Nature — is told through the human voice of a Narrator (Jjana Valentiner) but also through a textural soundscape of digital music, sound effects and other audio furbelows.

The Foley Artist (Scott Burgess), a Magritte-like figure in a bow tie and bowler hat, does not hide in the wings but takes center stage in this production, presiding like a maestro over a long table filled with computers, keyboards, microphones and an array of noisemakers that includes balloons, horns, saws, kazoos and pitchers of water.

Each sound — everything from shrieking breezes to ripening figs — is accompanied by a stage description flashed on a screen behind the Foley Artist, a playful allusion to the melding of the senses. The effect is like VH-1’s “Pop Up Videos” in reverse. We “see” the sound but simultaneously experience the effect it has on our mood and emotions. Adding another aural layer is Mr. Harrison’s script, a dense prose-poem filled with linguistic puns, wordplay and jabberwocky of the Monty Python ilk.

Mr. Burgess’ Foley Artist radiates the science-geek vibe that fittingly pervades the entire production, as “Kid-Simple’s” heroine is a teen brainiac named Moll (Maggie Glauber). She’s a budding mad scientist in lime-green shorts who wins the science fair with an invention she calls the “Third Ear,” which enables people to hear sounds previously unheard. Suddenly, dust bunnies, cogs turning in one’s head, and groaning bedroom walls have a voice.

After a shape-shifting Mercenary (Jason McCool) swipes the Third Ear for evil purposes, Moll and her nerdy sidekick Oliver (Andrew Wassenich) go on a “Lord of the Rings”-type quest to retrieve the invention and, oh yeah, save the world. This fantasy world of satyrs and other mythical creatures intersects with another make-believe realm, a pulpy mystery radio show concerning a music teacher and a mysterious cello that Moll listens to with her Norman Rockwellian parents (Fiona Blackshaw and Kevin Boggs).

Mr. Harrison’s frequent flights of fancy require a lot from the audience, and the play sometimes flirts with the fatally cutesy. However, Forum Theatre’s production keeps a firm grip on the playwright’s peculiar vision, and Miss Burgess deftly balances the multimedia and the physical demands of the actors.

With her pigtails and perpetual scowl of concentration, Miss Glauber makes Moll a beguiling mix of dispassionate scientist and young girl pondering heart-rending moral dilemmas. Mr. Boggs and Miss Blackshaw portray the parents with Eisenhower-era zeal but also are outstanding as the radio-show actors, an Amway saleslady and a cloying AAA travel guide. Mr. McCool — how great a name is that for an actor? — plays the seducer Garth with oily efficiency and also is strikingly alluring as a satyr in drag.

“Kid-Simple” is a blitzkrieg for the ears and eyes, but it is almost too much of a good thing. Clocking in at an hour and 45 intermissionless minutes, it stimulates your senses to a nearly unbearable degree until your synapses cry out for the respite of silence and darkness.

***1/2

WHAT: “Kid-Simple” by Jordan Harrison

WHERE: Forum Theatre and Dance at Round House Silver Spring, 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through March 4.

TICKETS: $13.50 to $19.50

PHONE: 800/494-8497 MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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