- Alexandra Garfield
Quiet Show Wins Thunderous Applause
Small Mouth Sounds is a genuinely funny play about how people deal with tragedy and despair. Powerfully told through silent actions and a few monologues, the show follows seven characters trying to heal themselves on a silent meditative retreat. Although largely told without words, Small Mouth Sounds speaks volumes about human nature and the process of healing oneself.
On the surface, the premise of Small Mouth Sounds seems like a recipe for disaster. Six modern people on stage for nearly two hours barely speaking and trying to deal with the terrible things happening in their lives sounds depressing and pedantic. Amazingly, through a combination of great acting and a superb script, the show creates a world that feels real and emotionally poignant to a modern audience.
Each character goes through an intense emotional journey as his or her past is slowly revealed to the audience. Some deal with their traumas through tears, others through marijuana or sex but all have come to the retreat looking for peace and enlightenment. Although it’s debatable whether any of them find that, the journey is hilarious, thought provoking and genuinely moving.
Part of what makes the show so intense is the aspect of voyeurism. The audience is peaking into the meditation rooms and the cabins of the characters seeing everything—the good and the bad. In our own silent contemplation of the characters, we are, in turn, invited to think about our own struggles and reactions to those hardships.
We see yoga-enthusiast Rodney (Edward Chin-Lyn) continually annoy his roommate Ned (Ben Beckley) who has had practically every possible bad thing happen to him yet is still more worried about the environment. We watch long-time couple Judy and Joan (Cherene Snow and Socorro Santiago) deal with illness and fear of the future while getting to know Jan (Connor Barrett) whose silent presence is always positive even as he grieves his own loss. We also watch Alicia (Brenna Palughi) as she deals with a devastating breakup and breaks all of the groups rules like bringing her own food and continuing to use electronic devices. Over them all is the character we don’t see but only hear. Like the voice of God, the teacher-guru of the group echoes over the audience (performed live by Orville Mendoza) and slowly reveals how even he doesn’t have everything figured out. Each character has unique problems and ways of dealing with them so that, as an audience member, you can easily find a mirror of yourself in at least one of them.
The show is deep and moving and forces the audience to think about uncomfortable topics such as pain, grief and mortality. But most surprisingly, this show is genuinely funny with too many laugh-out-loud moments to count. Instead of feeling dragged down by the topics in the play, you leave feeling refreshed, as if you’d just been on a weeklong retreat of your own.
This delicate balance of humor, gravity and healing is what makes this show so special. It’s a surprisingly fun and enlightening night out that might just make you realize some truths about yourself.
Small Mouth Sounds runs through December 10, 2017 at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater at 1127 Market Street, San Francisco. Tickets range from $14 - $90. The show runs about 1 hour and 50 minutes with no intermission.
Show includes full male nudity for several minutes and is not suitable for children.
Photos courtesy of T. Charles Erickson.