For my first theatre adventure of 2018, Arianne and I didn’t have to travel far from our West Side cocoons. We polished off some drinks and snacks at Bodega Wine Bar on Broadway & Lincoln before rolling in just on time for our 7:30PM opening night at the Broad Stage. It had been a few years since my last visit, their 2014 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, devised by the Handspring Puppet Company, most famous for their revolutionary theatrical creation, War Horse. The Broad Stage can be a challenging venue to follow. Not only do they show productions all across the performing arts spectrum (they are not exclusive to theatre) but their runs constantly vary in length. While they may have a one-night-only sold-out evening with the musical talents of Josh Groban one weekend, they may run a full-length drama running for weeks at another point in the season. You never can tell what to expect, which has its pros and cons.
I had seen a lot of advertising around town for Bess Wohl’s Small Mouth Sounds, and wondered what the hype was about. It was noticeable because I had never seen so many billboards, bus adverts and print ads for a Broad Stage show since my move to LA, but maybe it’s just me.
In Small Mouth Sounds, we follow six city-dwellers to a secluded silent retreat. As you might imagine, this silence and abundance of “downtime” could warrant lulls from a theatrical standpoint. And that did happen in certain moments of the play. However, this use of stillness and listening allowed for powerful moments of reflection and connection within the audience. So what does that mean? I think there is something for everyone in this play; there is a character for everyone to connect with. We don't get a lot of background, only what we see going on in the silence. In a certain respect, the play is "show don't tell" to the max. Embarrassingly, I related to the overly basic white girl (Alicia played by Brenna Palughi). We learn a lot about her through the silence, which her entire character opposes. She arrives late, stumbling in with about four or five bags, breaks the rule of eating outside of meal time, breaks the no cell phone rule and has plenty of substantial private melt-downs that let us know, there's something going on. I understood...because I had been there. But it also made me realize that her (and my) concerns and trials were not any more significant than any the others were trying to live through. Everyone is trying to get through something. No matter how together they seem. I think that is what this show changed in me; to be more aware of what other people are facing though my own struggle.
Although some moments seem to move a bit slowly (rightfully so based on the environment, but perhaps a bit lagging in the theatrical realm) there were others that were completely hilarious. The way the group learns to communicate in the silence, and with and for each other proved for some adorable interactions and some you couldn't help laughing out loud for. Also how we begin to learn that the guru/yogi guiding them is not so perfect either, and even though we never see this character, Orville Mendoza's voiceovers were especially funny. I was surprised by how funny the show was as a whole, but really, this show is kind of full of surprises.
All the characters have voluntarily signed up for the retreat for a reason. Since many of us have not experienced this environment before, we find ourselves in a fascinating, new, theatrical situation. For the newness (and renewness) it brings to the stage, I would encourage you to catch Small Mouth Sounds at the Broad Stage before it closes Sunday January 28. Don't go if you're super tired, as the silence may encourage the "quiet time" you're craving, and you don't want to miss the power that resonates, even in the quiet.