Simple Jim and His 4 Fabulous Friends, Lifeline Theatre. Eric Lane Barnes's play details the adventures of a slow-witted stonecutter's son, Simple Jim, and his four companions: a libidinous frog, a motormouth cowgirl, a cocksure archer, and a robot who can count everything. Barnes--who wrote the full-length musical Fairy Tales--is clearly no stranger to folk narratives and fables, and in Simple Jim and His 4 Fabulous Friends he references everyone from Aesop to the Brothers Grimm to Dickens. In fact his sources are almost too diverse: at times he struggles to tie together all the folk idioms he incorporates. Still, the play's empowering message comes through loud and clear: friendship is the key to overcoming adversity.
What sets this play apart from past Lifeline offerings for kids is its use of audience suggestions. Periodically the three-member ensemble dips into a pool of suggested nouns and proper names, whenever the rigidly structured script requires one to keep things on track. Judging by the enthusiastic reaction of the young audience, made up mainly of children four to ten, this is an excellent device encouraging very active participation in the story. And Larry Dahlke, Tina Martin, and James E. Grote seem to have an inexhaustible supply of energy; their wonderfully loopy and energetic performances smooth over even the weakest moments in the script.