BWW Review: SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS at Virginia Repertory Company And Cadence Theatre Company Reveals Acting Artistry
Spiritual strivers are the focus of "Small Mouth Sounds," Cadence Theatre's Acts of Faith Festival entry. Bess Wohl's 2015 play is unique in that it is nearly wordless-these six people are on an extended silent retreat in upstate New York.
Emily Hake Massie has designed an amusingly realistic retreat center for the set, well lit by Andrew Bonniwell. And into the space come the six participants, already trying (and sometimes failing) to forgo talking. For the most part these appear to be silent-retreat novices-by their movements and gestures, grunts and baggage, they show their discomfort. But one, Rodney, is clearly comfortable in the milieu, showing off his yoga bod like a spirituality snob.
We also meet Judy and Joan, a middle-aged lesbian couple, and Jan, the friendly guy who's plagues by mosquitoes. Young and pretty Alicia suffers all kinds of discomforts, particularly the impossibility of reaching her boyfriend via the retreat center's spotty cell-phone service. And Ned suffers many frustrations, including losing to Rodney in a bid for Alicia's attention.
There's seventh character who's just a voiceover to us-the Teacher who is leading the retreat. With a pompous, annoying tone she acts as the guru for the group, though her own serenity level is questionable.
Director Laine Satterfield has expertly guided the actors to create real people using just movement, expression, and a minimum of speech. We don't get fully rounded characters, only suggestions, but they are elegant and heartfelt renderings, like the momentary view an artist sketches from one angle and then another. It's illuminating to see how much can be done with the careful selection of such details as Sarah Grady's costumes and Ellie Wilder's props, which help express each individual's personality. Joey Luck's sound design is also amazingly specific and precise, whether supplying nature sounds or the Teacher's PA-amplified voice.
The actors appear to have enjoyed the creativity of this endeavor, and it pays off in the poignancy of the characters. Each has a struggle; why else would they be here? Lauren Leinhaas-Cook is Judy, stoic yet vulnerable; Jenny Hundley is now bubbly, now yearning as Joan. Maura Mazurowski's Alicia is a perfect millennial, but in pain; Larry Cook's Jan has clearly suffered a loss. As Rodney, Adam Valentine is the cool guy you'd love to hate, but he has his own issues. And Jim Morgan, in the role of Ned, is the only actor who gets an actual monologue to explain his situation, and he delivers it with humility and subdued feeling. Marisa Guida performs the Teacher's wordy voiceover with hilarious doses of temper and ego.
It's a rewarding production for those who observe closely.
And for those who want more, selected performances will be followed by mindfulness, meditation and yoga sessions.
"Small Mouth Sounds," produced by Cadence Theatre and Virginia Repertory Theatre
At: Theatre Gym, Virginia Repertory Center, 114 W. Broad St., through March 29
Info: (804) 282-2620 or va-rep.org
Photo credit: Jason Collins Photography