Small Mouth Sounds Has Some Big Things to Say
By Patrick Hurley
The numerous ways in which human beings communicate with each other is fascinating, and even more so when they are deprived of language.
Bess Wohl’s play Small Mouth Sounds, playing now at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, is part exercise in duration, and part acting class, with an emphasis on communicating action through long silences. The need for empathic relating, indulgence and even questions of the enduring spirit of human existence are all on display in this wonderfully funny and insightful piece.
Taking place at a silent retreat somewhere in the wilderness, six people, most of whom are strangers, gather to “fix” some aspect of their lives or to overcome some barrier or sruggle. At the top of the show, they sit in folding chairs in a sort of community room where the voice of a teacher (Orville Mendoza) appears and instructs them on their journey ahead. These interim scenes occur wherein the teacher will speak to them about their journey and the purpose of the retreat. It’s mostly new age nonsense that serves up most of the big laughs of the night. However, there is the occasional beautiful insight that surprisingly lands a cathartic punch.
The play is mostly about how people communicate with each other, and the need that we have for these interactions, but it also goes a step further and removes the need for language that we have, and shows the universality of emotion, and need for connection that binds us as a race of humans not separated by language or culture or belief.
This production is simple and clean, with beautiful direction by Rachel Chavkin. She gives the actors so much to do without words, that no one could possibly miss the language. On the other hand, when there is dialogue it’s pretty terrific. Most of the dialogue comes from Teacher, who is an offstage character providing only a voice. Orville Mendoza is so good at the voiceover work that every time you hear his voice it’s a welcome addition to the silence and you start to gleefully anticipate him. The rest of the cast Connor Barret (Jan), Ben Beckley (Ned), Edward Chin-Lyn (Rodney), Brenna Palughi (Alicia), Socorro Santiago (Joan), and Cherene Snow (Judy) are all fantastic. So much has to be conveyed without words and not one of these actors misses a beat. Whether it’s through deep sadness or watching the revelation of a great loss, or a spontaneous sexual encounter, nothing is left unsaid in the wonderful expressions and evocations of this first-rate cast.
This production is a must see. It is theater at its crackling, exciting best. What it does most impressively is it takes a medium where language is usually king, and flips it on itself and shows that the power of live performance can transcend any and all words and connect to us on a deeper level. And then leave us, perhaps, with a deeper understanding of the people around us and the struggles, joys and challenges we’re all facing in this world. And in this particular political climate, that’s a tremendous thing.
Small Mouth Sounds
By Bess Wohl
Directed by Rachel Chavkin
The Eli & Edythe Broad Stage
1310 11th St. Santa Monica CA 90401. Limited free parking is available.
January 11 – 28, 2018
Thursday – Friday at 7:30pm;
Saturday – Sunday at 2:00pm and 7:30pm
(Note – on Sunday, January 28 there is a single performance at 2:00pm)
Prices: Start at $45. (Prices subject to change)
Phone: Patron Services at 310.434.3200
In Person: Box office at 1310 11th St. Santa Monica CA 90401 beginning three hours prior to performance.