In Play Reviews

“I have no plan,” announces the guru-like Teacher (Mary McDonald-Lewis) to a gathering of six disparate and mostly miserable souls in Bess Wohl‘s Small Mouth Sounds now running on the Alder Stage at Artists Repertory Theatre.

Kelly Godell and Michael Mendelson in Small Mouth Sounds. Photo by David Kinder.

The six are gathered at a silent meditation retreat in a rainy woodland setting. No cell phones. No outside food. No alcohol. No talking. The Teacher promises “spiciness…juiciness… enlightenment…all right here. All you have to do is listen.”

We know nothing about the meditators, but we learn a lot, and quickly, even though they aren’t talking. There is that pesky body language, the furtive or disapproving looks, the faux pas that keep us riveted to the action or laughing out loud.

It’s a brave concept to write (and stage, for that matter) a play that features a paucity of dialogue. But for some crazy reason this works. For one thing, the silence lends itself to misunderstandings and hilarious situations between the characters. And, thanks to skilled actors, play-goers quickly realize they’re not missing a thing. Interesting story lines unfold, ranging from comical to heartbreaking, even without the benefit of spoken word. There are more than a few antics of which the Teacher would disapprove. But where is that Teacher, anyway?

Ayanna Berkshire and John San Nicolas in Beth Wohl’s Small Mouth Sounds at Artists Rep. Photo by David Kinder.

The success of any play depends upon good direction. This is particularly so in Small Mouth Sounds where movement and timing lack the support of an ongoing dialogue. Hats off to Shawn Lee for a job well done. The beautiful architectural set designed by Meg Wilkerson, evoking falling water and the surrounding forest, also deserves kudos.

Those who have had brushes with the self-help movement, and may have found it lacking, will particularly appreciate this play. While the satire is gentler than in some plays, it nonetheless is there. The performances of Susannah Mars, Ayanna Berkshire, Kelly Godell, Darius Pierce, John San Nicolas, and Michael Mendelson cover a number of archetypes, and as many levels of self discovery as the play moves forward.

Small Mouth Sounds provides an honest if skeptical look at the self-help culture while providing a fine evening’s entertainment. It runs through November 4 at Artists Repertory Theatre.

*contains brief nudity

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