Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
The premise is simple yet intriguing; Six urbanites attending a week-long retreat in the woods agree to give up cell phones, fast food, and comfy beds in hopes of obtaining some spiritual enlightenment. When the resident guru, referred to as The Teacher, informs this motley crew they are to remain silent for the duration, everything from personal introductions to room sharing becomes humorously complex. There is a narrative of sorts, but the real action is in the way the characters develop and interact in near total silence.
Socorro Santiago and Cherene Snow are absolutely tremendous as Joan and Judy, a charming middle-aged couple working through some serious issues. Joan's enthusiasm is infectious and Judy's incredulous attitude is uproarious. Communicating volumes with a single gesture or sideways glance, the duo illustrates exactly how clearly a person can speak in silence. Edward Chin-Lyn shows off an intimidating aura of confidence and a chiseled physique as Rodney, a yoga video instructor and the only participant who seems comfortable with everything going on. Obviously uncomfortable but remarkably well provisioned Alicia, played by Brenna Palughi, effectively communicates a whole evolution of heartbreak and emotional angst. Kindly Jan, played by Connor Barrett, conveys an acute but quiet sadness, while Brad Heberlee's Ned comes off as a whiney millennial version of Job. Orville Mendoza rounds out the cast as the often heard but never seen Teacher, who dispensers glib wisdom while struggling with problems of his own.
The unique set up, well defined characters, and talented ensemble come together to create some extraordinary moments on stage. An extended sequence of the entire ensemble getting ready for bed is brilliant, a scene beside the campus swimming hole goes from painfully awkward to laugh out loud funny, and a smoke fueled "chat" between Judy and Jan is a joy to watch. There are also a number of unfortunately slow-paced monologues (especially hard to swallow in a play where silence is the basic premise), an uninspired and occasionally distracting set design, and a lot of missed opportunities for thoughtful or funny interactions. Aggressive editing (I would take out or drastically shorten every monologue) could solve the biggest of these problems. Silence may not be golden in Small Mouth Sounds, but it is certainly fertile ground for creativity, humor and insight.
Small Mouth Sounds, through April 1, 2018, at Philadelphia Theatre Company at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia PA. For tickets visit philatheatreco.org or call 215-985-0420.