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BWW Review: Southern Plains Productions gets a running start with SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS

Southern Plains Productions presents their inaugural play at the Water Stage.

BWW Review: Southern Plains Productions gets a running start with SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS
photo by John Gifford

SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS by Bess Wohl is intriguing concept art in play form. Based at a silent retreat, six strangers come together for five days to learn about themselves and each other. Southern Plains Productions presents their inaugural production outdoors at the Myriad Water Stage.

Artistic Director Jackson Gifford and Production Director Jacob Musgrove set out to create art at a time when art as an industry was under attack. COVID wreaked havoc on the entertainment industry, and live theatre in particular took a hit. Live performances were suspended all summer last year, and as the industry has slowly returned, accommodations and CDC guidelines mean that theatre isn't the same. Creativity blossoms during hard times, and Gifford has essentially built an entire theatre company from the ground up in less than a year.

With all that is against them, the cast and crew rise above and create an enjoyable night of theatre. SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS is a hard sell. The show has more silence than dialogue, more awkwardness than interaction. Body language is key, chemistry is essential, and conveying a message without speaking is more challenging than it sounds. It's a timely story to tell right now. Society as a whole is slowly coming out of a worldwide pandemic, where communication and connection have been severely lacking. We all feel that silence and disconnect. And we're all craving what the retreaters in this show are- understanding and connection.

The cast of six is made up of Drew Bos as Rodney, Mackenzie Holley as Joan, Arman Hakimattar as Jan, Gianna Hoffman as Judy, Mia Kendell as Alicia, and Ben Millspaugh as Ned. Swings are Latifat Sulaimon and Trevyn Wong.

It's unfortunate that these actors aren't given more dialogue. The times they do get to speak, they prove themselves to be gifted emotionally and deeply connected to their audience. In the case of this show, they're simply victims of an unforgiving script. Kandy Otchere-Boakye gives a standout performance as The Teacher. Otchere-Boakye is, of course, the performer with the main speaking role. She's moving and enigmatic as the off-stage voice of reason. Another particularly powerful scene occurs when Ned finally gets to ask a question. Pouring his heart out, Millspaugh tells his character's entire life story. This moment of silence broken and revelations revealed is beautiful. The only downside is that it's not long enough.

Likewise, Hoffman is heartbreaking and real as Judy. Drew Bos is obnoxious yet tender as Rodney. Mackenzie Holley is believable and grounded as Joan. Hakimattar is truly endearing as Jan, and his show-closing scene is powerful and emotional. Mia Kendell is loveable and naïve as Alicia, and she comes into her own as the events play out.

All the performers create characters who are well-rounded and realistic, a hefty task for a show with such little dialogue. The actors undoubtedly fill in imagination and backstory as they create their characters from within.

What's happening onstage during this production is not just a play. It's a whole theatre company, emerging from the wreckage that was 2020 and the aftermath of a global pandemic. It's resiliency, passion, and hope for the future. And it's artists telling stories with their own bodies and hearts. What the audience is witnessing this night is the actual future of theatre itself. It's everything that theatre should be; accessible, available, affordable, and professionally produced without a huge budget.

Southern Plains Productions is a small theatre company with a big heart. They're going to do great things, and Oklahoma City audiences are lucky to get to see this young company grow. They're off to a running start with one show under their belt, and SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS is a feat to pull off. Gifford and Company should be proud of the work they're doing, and with keeping up the hard work and commitment to their craft, they will continue to prove that they're ones to watch for.

Southern Plains Productions returns in 2022 with a full season lineup. For info and to join their mailing list, visit southernplainsproductions.org.


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