Mom Theatre Blogger: SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS: Show Review by Robin Gorman Newman

photo by Ben Aarons

(Photo by Ben Arons)

Never did silence speak such volumes on the stage.

The critically-acclaimed Ars Nova production of Bess Wohl’s Small Mouth Sounds is playing a limited run at The Pershing Square Signature Center, and it is an understated, smart, tender and insightful  delight.

At times, the actors sit methodically, perched in a row on a platform, and other times, the audience surrounds their action as they leave and enter from various curtained exits.  Whether placid-faced, confused or distraught, their expressions are a free for all and pack an emotional punch.

In the rainy woods, three men and three women embark on a silent retreat that has the potential to be life affirming, yet highly challenging.  As they roll out their sleep mats, journals and lanterns, each navigates not just their rustic, personal space, but the busyness of their minds.  They replay disappointments in life including health challenges and relationship breakups, while engaging in muted exchanges (and an unexpected tryst) with each other, attempting to assess what brought them there in the first place and what they hope to gain.

Directed by Obie Award- winner Rachel Chavkin (Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812), Small Mouth Sounds features a stellar cast including Obie-winner Quincy Tyler Bernstine (Ruined), Zoë Winters (Red Speedo), Max Baker (The Village Bike), Carmen Zilles (Scenes from a Marriage), James Seol (Around the World in 80 Days), Marcia DeBonis (“Homeland”), Jojo Gonzalez (The Romance of Magno Rubio), Brad Heberlee (These Paper Bullets), and Babak Tafti (The North Pool).

Each has their emotional baggage, and one doesn’t even speak English, but they all seek relief, support, and a better tomorrow.

Led by a retreat moderator (Carmen Zilles), who we don’t meet until the curtain call, she finds her work interrupted by cell phone calls, and at times loses her cool  to later apologize to participants.  Even spiritual leaders have their “stuff.”  Hers is largely the only voice we hear, except for occasional outbursts or rants, but each shares an array of noises whether raucous laughter, moaning, snoring, etc…”small mouth sounds.”

We laugh and feel for these wounded, nuanced characters at varying ages and stages of life, and it may lead us to look at ourselves, and neatly observe other members of the audience as the 90 or so minute play (no intermission) proceeds.

The design team of Small Mouth Sounds includes Obie-winner Laura Jellinek (Scenic Design), Tilly Grimes (Costume Design), Mike Inwood (Lighting Design), Stowe Nelson (Sound Design), Andrew Schneider (Projection Design), and Noah Mease (Prop Design).  Schneider and Nelson deserve special kudos for their rain and other projections and, at times, almost meditative sound.

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