Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Some Dialogue In Small Mouth Sounds, But The Rest is Silence

"Each time we invite you to Ars Nova, we go all out to deliver an experience like no other," reads the program note from Jason Eagan and Renee Blinkwolt, artistic and managing directors. They are succeeding. Where else can you find a working Jacuzzi on stage or a play with almost no dialogue? The latter is the case with Bess Wohl's Small Mouth Sounds, which takes place at a silent retreat.
Foreground: Marcia DeBonis and Sakina Jaffrey; Background: Jessica Almasy and Erik Lochtefeld
Photo credit: Ben Arons
Wohl, director Rachel Chavkin, and the cast do a remarkable job of creating compelling narrative with very little talking. We know, for example, that Joan (Marcia DeBonis) and Judy (Sakina Jaffrey) are together, but something is going on between them, from their ease in holding each other but also their distance. Or that Rodney (Babak Tafti) loves to show off his body and expertise in yoga. Tilly Grimes's costumes and Noah Mease's props also go a long way to establish characters, like a bedazzled phone and Trader Joe's grocery bag for the frazzled Alicia (Jessica Almasy) or a child's backpack that Jan (Erik Lochtefeld) carries or even a package of tissues that Ned (Brad Heberlee) is constantly trying to pass off to those in need of comforting.

The audience is seated on either side of the action, so close that it feels as if we are also on the retreat. When the teacher (Jojo Gonzalez, who does speak, but is never seen) says to breath in and out, I found myself doing it as well. Though not all the characters leave healed--some have more problems than when they started--as an audience member, I did leave with slightly lighter baggage and new hope about what theater can be.


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