Small Mouth Sounds, Big Impact
Despite the certain brand of uneasiness I typically begin to feel when I’m surrounded by theater majors, I walked into Small Mouth Sounds on Nov. 12 with the intent of enjoying myself. I had not read the screenplay in advance of the showing, which I was later grateful for. Small Mouth Sounds centers on six distinct personalities, lead by a “teacher” who only appears as a voice played through the speakers, as they fumble through a nature retreat during which talking is prohibited, and relies on the audience’s slow retrieval of knowledge through the actions and small mouth sounds of each character.
I was initially drawn in by the underlying references to Quakerism, a Christian religion that utilizes silence as a form of worship. The nature resorts rule doubled as a spiritual guidance, as well as an act of worship. There was inherent juxtaposition between the six people trying to forgo modernity as their “teacher” struggled to adapt to it.
Part of the fun of the show was labeling each character with a name, since most were not provided, and guessing how the small parts of their stories added up. While the audience’s role in Small Mouth Sounds is clearly important, the task of the actors was even more so — due to a blatant lack of words. I was able to discern a lot from the body language that they chose to use, and I really enjoyed the clarity of passion that each actor had. It seemed obvious that each participant had worked hard for this show, and that made it all the better to watch.
The set and props kept with the show’s minimalist theme, and mostly consisted of six metal chairs exactly like the ones the audience sat on. The production used yoga mats as sleeping bags, as well as the camping lanterns that lit up when action was occurring in a specific tent. I am honestly not sure if the bugs on stage during the performance were placed there on purpose or not, but they were captivating and added a necessary layer of ambiance to the outdoor setting of the show, and complimented the generic nature-sounds backing track. Other props included a vape pen, a bag of bagels, and an inconspicuous necklace that was later ripped off to reveal that it had been holding a wedding ring.
The show’s playbill included a sweet little list of songs titled “Our Small Mouth Sounds,” solidifying the camaraderie I had been enjoying throughout the whole production. Overall, I had a great time. The special-invite guests who presumably know lots about theater looked to be having a great deal of fun, and so it seemed the actors did as well. But putting the spotlight on a different kind of communication produced deeper thought as well as fun. Small Mouth Sounds left me reconsidering my own place in society, and renewed my interest in Skidmore’s many theater productions. Next time, I will bring a friend to help me brave the masses of Theater majors.
Photo taken from the JKB website