Small Mouth Sounds
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Small Mouth Sounds: Theater review by David Cote
Silence is golden in Bess Wohl’s exquisite play set at an upstate meditation retreat where six strangers take (and mostly break) a vow not to speak. But baser metals also emerge from the vacuum of verbiage: When we don’t have everyday babble muting the noise in our heads, we risk drowning in an ocean of loneliness, grief and fear. The sight of deeply unhappy people trapped in a series of embarrassing situations makes Small Mouth Sounds one of the funnier sad plays you’re likely to see.
Our soul-sick pilgrims include kindly, grieving father Jan (Max Baker); alpha yogi Rodney (Babak Tafti); serial loser Ned (Brad Heberlee); Joan and Judy (Marcia DeBonis, Quincy Tyler Bernstine), a couple coping with terminal illness; and Alicia (Zoë Winters), a bottle-blond heap of neuroses. Since Wohl’s premise denies the exigency of expository dialogue, we must intuit what personal woe drove each character to the retreat, presided over by an unseen (but heard) teacher (Jojo Gonzalez). Seasoned theatergoers will already know this is a smashing cast, all navigating tonal and emotional shifts with passion and aplomb.
Rachel Chavkin’s beautifully direct and transparent staging on Laura Jellinek’s austere set covers a remarkable range of pain, joy and hope in 100 deeply engrossing minutes. Words fail; thank goodness we have more than language.—David Cote
Pershing Square Signature Center (Off Broadway). By Bess Wohl. Directed by Rachel Chavkin. With Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Zoë Winters, Max Baker, Marcia DeBonis, Jojo Gonzalez, Brad Heberlee and Babak Tafti. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.
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