Can a playwright create an engaging and dramatically effective show where dialogue is at a minimum? In the case of Small Mouth Sounds, Bess Wohl has mostly succeeded.
The plot centers on six disparate individuals who have all registered for a weeklong retreat of meditation and reflection. Very soon, under the direction of the facility’s spiritual leader, the participants are instructed not to speak during their time at the center. This begins an odyssey, often funny, sometimes poignant, of self-discovery and enlightenment punctuated by self-important, vacuous lectures from the disembodied voice of the guru.
|The cast of "Small Mouth Sounds" at Long Wharf Theatre through September 24th. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.|
The entertaining and fascinating aspect of the play is watching how the players interact and function, mostly without mouthing any words. We see them connect (or not), cooperate, and learn to communicate silently as they seek answers to their own series of questions and problems.
Bess Wohl has crafted an original take on the tried and true formula of observing a group of unrelated characters come together and bond. Small Mouth Sounds can be seen as a statement on human nature, our need for companionship, and the ability to take risks. The show is moving, playful, humorous and, for the most part, captivating. The production is more successful during the muted portions of the play as opposed to the occasional monologues. Towards the end, the uniqueness and diverting nature of the show begins to lose some steam but, overall, this is a satisfying and worthwhile play to see.
The ensemble cast is a crazy quilt of characters. Socorro Santiago as Joan, a woman approaching mid-age, approaches the week with an apprentice’s zeal. This initial earnestness becomes more tempered as the relationship with her partner, Judy, portrayed by Cherene Snow, becomes strained and uncomfortable. Judy, unhappy to leave the comforts of home and the use of her electronic devices, is the more aggrieved of the twosome. Ms. Snow, with more restrained grimaces and pained looks, that are not all related to her self-imprisonment at the retreat, is the ying to Joan’s yang.
|Ben Beckley and Edward Chin-Lyn in "Small Mouth Sounds" at Long Wharf Theatre through September 24th. Photo by T. Charles Erickson|
Rodney, tall and handsome, is played with a graceful ardor by Edward Chin-Lyn. He is the true believer, at least for the weekend, of everything healthy for both mind and body. The actor deserves kudos for putting his modesty on hold for a very funny scene midway through the show. Ben Beckley, as Ned, is the most frenzied performer, both in his character portrayal and actions. His troubles, laid out in an over long monologue, are both funny and heartbreaking. Brenna Palughi, as Alicia, a harried blonde is more detached from the others and her motives for attending somewhat of a mystery. The actress does well more in tandem when interacting with one of the other characters. Connor Barrett, as Jan is, well, a conundrum. We know and learn very little about him until the very final scene, which in itself is not conclusive. Barrett utters the fewest words in the production, but the actor conveys an impressive number of emotions and feelings from just a stare or simple hand movement. Orville Mendoza is the teacher whose voice is occasionally heard lecturing the participants. He convincingly displays a world-weariness as he spouts sanctimonious platitudes that he doesn’t always seem to believe himself.
|Cherene Snow and Connor Barrett in "Small Mouth Sounds" at Long Wharf Theatre through September 24th. Photo by T. Charles Erickson|
Director Rachel Chavkin needs to call on all her skill and experience to helm the show since dialogue is at a premium. She, instead, focuses on facial expressions, manic gestures, and a bevy of non-verbals to build and carry along the plot. She handles a very, shall we say, raucous situation with aplomb and comic gusto.
Small Mouth Sounds, an absorbing and winning production, through September 24th at Long Wharf Theatre. For tickets go to www.longwharf.org or call 203-787-4282.