American writer Bess Wohl’s play is set in one of those quasi-religious retreats that asks you to leave your baggage at the door.
Your phone. Your ego. Your hang-ups. Your doubts. Especially your doubts.
First to arrive for this particular week-long intensive is Jan (played by Justin Smith), who immediately strikes as a fish out of water.
He’s soon joined by the cheesecloth-clad and bead-bedecked Rodney (Dorje Swallow), who immediately ups the ante by assuming a meditative position on the floor.
Next to arrive is a somewhat anxious, Kathmandu-wearing Ned (Yalin Ozucelik), followed by bickering couple Joan and Judy (Sharon Millerchip and Jane Phegan).
Late to the party is Alicia (Amber McMahon), who at first glance seems to have brought every possible item of personal baggage with her.
The voice of the retreat leader (Jo Turner, also this production’s director) lays down the ground rules: no phones; no eating in the dorms; no talking. Clothing is optional (at the lake, only); beware of the panther.
What unfolds over the course of the play’s 90-odd minutes isn’t that surprising. Micro-aggressions are perpetrated and endured. Desire simmers. Rivalries develop. Some of these people aren’t what they seem at first glance. Individual heartaches will be revealed.
The novelty here is that all this is related more or less without words. Small Mouth Sounds speaks in the broken semaphore of six people trying to get along.
Turner’s direction is expertly calibrated, with the production straddling the realms of emotional realism and an episode of Mr Bean.
Gesture and facial expression is nuanced enough to draw us closer to the characters yet sufficiently broad to transmit to the back row.
Scene transitions are facilitated with gently humorous choreography and the slapstick is wielded with restraint.
Jasmine Rizk’s lighting supports the shifting moodscape impeccably.
It’s entirely an ensemble effort (and what a fine ensemble this is) but Ozucelik stands out for his adroit physical comedy and delivery of the play’s only speech. Millerchip’s outwardly sunny Joan is pitch perfect.
We only hear the teacher-guru (over a live mike) yet Turner makes us ‘see’ him. The vocal similarity to Jordan Peterson is uncanny and, I assume, entirely deliberate.
You mightn’t be rocked out of your seat by Small Mouth Sounds but its warmly comic insights jolt throughout. Recommended.