Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Small Mouth Sounds
National Tour
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule


The Cast
Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Small Mouth Sounds is quirky, clever, smart, and sometimes enticingly comic. Bess Wohl's play begins a tour, which will visit theaters in San Francisco, Santa Monica, Dallas, Miami, and Philadelphia, with a run at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre on Stage II through September 24th. Rachel Chavkin, who also directed Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, most adroitly helms this Ars Nova production.

Six people are about to begin a five-day retreat which is intended to be a silent experience. The only first name we ever hear for the next 105 minutes is that of Ned (Ben Beckley), who wears a skullcap and is recovering from various rock climbing head injuries. Also present is Jan (Connor Barrett), a guy with a beard. Edward Chin-Lyn plays Rodney, a flexible yoga-type man. He seems very much delighted with the retreat. There's blonde, sexy Alicia (Brenna Palughi), who takes copious notes and is very much attached to her phone. She also has various bags of food. The other two women clearly care about one another; they seem attached. Cherene Snow embodies Judy while Socorro Santiago is Joan, who often cries. The final character, unseen but pivotal, is the voice of the Teacher (Orville Mendoza) who guides and teaches all.

Before anything occurs, the audience hears water, sees greenery, and then sits through a quite loud thunderstorm (thanks to Stowe Nelson for sound and Andrew Schneider for video). The play begins as people walk in, sit upon folding chairs, and are then greeted. The voice from above or afar says, "We shall each set our intention for the week."

While dialogue is not extensive, Wohl's play is far from wordless. The teacher speaks fairly often and characters have lines to deliver. It is an odd pleasure to watch and listen without a continuous back and forth. Still, the actors on stage very much communicate with one another and tend to Teacher's advisories which are audible. Some individuals, more than others, reveal situations of their personal selves.

Playwright Wohl was not thinking about scripting when she first went, with a friend, on a retreat some years ago. The idea soon kicked in that she might have material for a play, so she went on more retreats. Her work flows fluently and is completely engaging in an idiosyncratic mode. It does not drag and, in fact, becomes increasingly engrossing. If these folks were conversing in normal fashion with one another, the play would not be as fresh or quickly appealing as it is.

What more do we know? Rodney and Ned do not get along all that well. Alicia evidently is on the rebound from a relationship (a voice message from Fred is heard when she calls) and is often texting. Judy is ill. The "swimming scene," not actually viewed, rightfully elicits laughter from theatergoers.

Small Mouths Sounds is performed with precision, whether the characters are on their chairs or on mats which are positioned downstage within the rectangular performance space. The actors have impressive credits and, as a unit, they complement one another and jell. Wohl has constructed the piece with some surprising turns. On one level, this is a play about individuals who, for whatever reason, are searching for meaning and significance in life. On the other hand, it is also a sharply pointed satire aimed directly at the concept of silent retreat. To the author's credit, she moves from one theme or direction to the other. The result is an atypical play which is consistently brisk and catchy.

Small Mouth Sounds continues at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, through September 24th, 2017. For tickets, call (203) 787-4282 or visit longwharf.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.smallmouthsounds.com.


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