Staging a sonic odyssey

Swandive Theatre opens “Kid Simple: a radio play in the flesh” at the Southern Theater.

Danylo Loutchko

Watch out, hearing aids — Moll is a girl who invents a machine that lets people hear sounds that can’t be heard.
 
 
Swandive Theatre’s production of “Kid Simple: a radio play in the flesh” is obsessed with the imaginative powers and limitations of sound. The show opens Friday night at the Southern Theater and runs until May 22.
 
 
“[The show] is a bombardment of the senses,” said Boo Segersin, the actress who plays Moll. “Towards the end, sound starts to rebel. In the middle of a sentence, a word could be replaced with a sound.”
 
 
“Kid Simple” — written by New York playwright Jordan Harrison — attracted Swandive due to its unique relationship with sound.
 
 
The story follows a girl, Moll, who invents a machine called “The Third Ear,” which allows people to hear sounds that can’t be heard. After a boy she falls in love with betrays her and steals the invention, Moll journeys to find her machine and save sound from breaking down.
 
 
“The Third Ear” manifests onstage as musician Derek Trost, who is the sound designer and foley artist in the show.
 
 
A foley artist is a person who creates sound effects using everyday objects. But the play takes the art of foley in a different direction.
 
 
Throughout the story, Trost uses a table of objects and instruments to create all of the bizarre sound cues the script calls for, like “toenails growing on a field mouse” or “the sound of a hush” or “peanut butter separating from jelly.”
 
 
“Some of it is just totally bizarre and impossible, therefore, it’s just a creative suggestion,” Trost said. “It’s the sound of onomatopoeia. That’s my language.”
 
 
Trost, a local musician, also has a background in architecture. While some of his work includes recording studio and music venue design, recently his work in the Twin Cities has been making sounds for theatre.
 
 
“When people ask me what I do as a musician, I get to explain I’m an absurdist,” Trost said. “Whether I’m in a rock band or a theater show, the common denominator is getting to do weird things with weird instruments [and] making weird sounds.”
 
 
During the show, Trost is center stage behind a table with about 40 different devices he uses throughout the show. Nearly all the foley work is done live, with Trost making the required sounds into the microphone.
 
 
There are a few pre-recorded sounds, he said, like a person reading from the diary of the Donner party or a ski race or a Yeti yelling. But mostly, it’s all him.
 
 
The attention to design in theatre usually goes to the lights, the set or the costumes, said Meaghan DiSciorio, co-director of the production. It took time for the group to get used to thinking sonically.
 
 
In the finale of the play, sound begins to break down. When characters speak words, some of the words are replaced by a sound effect. The artists said it was difficult to practice and rehearse because it required a high level of timing and precision.
 
 
At the same time, there are also bright projections that appear with onomatopoeia along with the sound, like “Tralala” or “Kazam!” This offers the show a visceral tone that marks the entire piece. Yet even in its absurdity, the play finds grace, Segersin said.