Many of us feel uneasy if we’re receiving the silent treatment from another individual we deem important in our lives. Silence in general is becoming an increasingly alien concept – as well as perhaps a precious commodity – to those 21st century dwellers living in Western metropolises. Thus, the trend of purposely seeking silence and maintaining it at all costs has burgeoned for those strong and brave enough to close their cellular phones, turn off their tablets, unplug their headphones and retreat into nature from whence everything sprang.
Six brave souls do just that in Bess Wohl’s off-Broadway success Small Mouth Sounds, now being delivered in Surround No-Sound to mesmerized Segal Centre audiences. Segal Centre Artistic and Executive Director Lisa Rubin simply couldn’t resist bringing this to the Centre after seeing its premiere Off Broadway. So different, so cleansing and enlightening a theatergoing experience – she wanted her favourite (and home) audience to be able to experience it as she did. Even the overlying message about learning to communicate with one another above the ever-present social media small talk and beeping notifications and opaque emoji exchanges is really hit home to the audience as they are actually – and unusually – seated across from one another in the theatre set-up. And much like the talented thespians on stage, the theatergoer can somewhat intimately see their fellow theatergoer but must use their powers of observation and intuition to interpret their overall demeanour, facial expressions, body language, and non-verbal cues of various distinctions if they want to gauge what the other is thinking or feeling.
The participants in this urban-dwellers-go-off-into-the-woods existential effort toward epiphany are all living very different realities, and their manner of dress, overall appearance, facial nuances and corporeal mannerisms are supplemented by the retreat’s narrator – never seen but perpetually heard and seemingly about as off-kilter as the retreaters. In-demand and on-the-move Costume Designer Sophie El Assaad had her work cut out for her – no pun intended – in not only accentuating the time and place where the story on stage is unfolding, but literally defining the multi-textured characters themselves by tackling the ever-challenging task of conveying to the audience who each of these people are, as well as from where did they come and what are they facing that they would abandon the comfortable and familiar trappings of hustle bustle modernity to return to nature for five days with a vow of unabashed silence.
As if El Assaad’s task isn’t daunting enough (a challenge to which she rises magnificently), imagine being director Caitlin Murphy. Murphy is used to masterfully utilizing the complexities of verbal linguistics to manufacture magic, which then emanates from page to stage. Now everything is far subtler – like the fine print in a technology service contract – and the tools at your disposal involve close to everything that doesn’t resemble an elaborate, audible utterance of any sort. Murphy keeps it going in brisk and rather brilliant fashion however – and is especially skillful when the characters quickly discover they are not islands unto themselves but rather have to get along and interact with the other peace seekers – using anything and everything in their proverbial bag of tools except the language they’ve used since they were toddlers.
Small Mouth Sounds is truly unique as a theatergoing experience, and with the emoting talents of actors Andreas Apergis, Alison Darcy, Matthew Gagnon, Gabe Grey, Zara Jestadt, Warona Setshwaelo – and the unseen but ever-felt Marcelo Arroyo as the teacher / guru who seems like he’s fresh out of guru college himself – the microcosmic statement on taking care of one’s spiritual life and mental health is hit home in rather unforgettable and indelible fashion.
Put on your hiking shoes and sharpen up eyes and ears – because your mouth may not be the featured player this time around – at Segal Centre’sSegal Centre Studio until March 1st. Visit segalcentre.org for more information or call the box office at (514) 739-7944 .