This critically-acclaimed Ars Nova production of Bess Wohl‘s Small Mouth Sounds returns this summer at The Pershing Square Signature Center. Thanks to the inventiveness of Stowe Nelson’s sound design and set designer Laura Jellinek, rain falls on shivering leaves projected on window-like panels. Then thunder cracks and a storm begins. When the lights go on onstage, you meet the six quirky participants of a silent retreat who are looking to escape the storm of their lives.
From a loudspeaker, the disembodied voice of the facilitator (Carmen Zilles) tells them the rules: no talking, no eating in your rooms, no cell phones or computers, no smoking or fires; nudity allowed if respectful. Of course Rodney (Babak Tafti), a sexy Yoga instructor who is constantly striking poses in both Yoga and in his phoniness, manages to show off his muscular, gleaming body. Alicia (Zoe Winters) bursts in late with a cache of goodies from Whole Foods. Her hysterical laughter and alternating pain is palpable. Joan (Marcia Debonis) and Judy (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) are a gay couple who come in arguing about the directions they followed, a hint to the troubles plaguing them in their relationship. Ned (Brad Heberlee), wears a wooly cap that he takes pains not to remove even when stripping down for a swim, has a beef with his roommate, Rodney, who lights incense and goes after Alicia, who Ned has been trying to court in his bumbling way. We find out later the tragic reason for his cap when we find out what brought him to this retreat. Jan, (Max Baker) who reminds me of a silent movie comic—Buster Keaton?—struck me as the most soulful, his expressions most tender.
In a singsong accent, the facilitator tells a weird tale about a frog who lived in a well and was taken to see the ocean that makes you almost nod off if the participants’ reactions weren’t so comic. The humor is edgy, so edgy that at times you aren’t sure whether to laugh or cry and do both, nearly simultaneously.
There is so much going onstage—storms, swims, sobs, hysteria, lovemaking, near-fires, break ups, the threat of a marauding bear, all acted out silently. Everyone moves with such timing that it’s practically choreographed. Obie winner Director Rachel Chavkin (Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812), does a fantastic job of making it all work. The limited engagement will run through September 25, 2016
Small Mouth Sounds, which played a sold-out, twice extended run at Ars Nova in 2015, was featured in The New York Times as one of ‘The Best Theater of 2015’ The original design team of Small Mouth Sounds returns for this production and 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).
Small Mouth Sounds will play the following performance schedule: Beginning September 5: Tuesday – Friday at 7:30pm, Wednesday at 2pm, Saturday at 5pm and 8:30pm, and Sunday at 7:30pm. For more information, visit www.SmallMouthSounds.com.