Portland's theater-makers are clearly enthusiastic about the work of playwright Jordan Harrison—he wrote both Kid Simple, currently running at CoHo Productions, and Portland Center Stage's Futura.
This is not an enthusiasm I share.
Both of the aforementioned plays borrow from genre storytelling: Where Futura is a preachy sci-fi parable about the death of print, Kid Simple roots its tale of a girl inventor in the melodrama and conventions of radio plays.
Precocious Moll (Sarah McGregor) has invented a machine that can pick up sounds that usually go unheard. But when a duplicitous Mercenary (JR Wickman) tricks her into bed and then steals her machine, she goes on a hero's quest to win it back, with only a guide book (hilariously voiced by Keith Cable) to show the way. A parallel story unfolds in the form of an old-timey radio drama—a narrator (Cassie Skauge) ties the two threads together, and a foley artist (Joe Bolenbaugh) hovers over it all, watching Moll's antics with concern and providing sound effects as needed.
Kid Simple is full of elegant solutions to technical challenges and wry jokes about its own mechanics. Where it fails, though, is in fleshing out its concepts: Campy melodrama comes through loud and clear, but Moll is a two-dimensional cliché of a scrappy girl heroine, intermittently entertaining, but over-contrived. Like Moll herself, the show is eager to impress, but hard to care about.