Buddhism teaches pain is inevitable. Suffering, on the other hand, is optional. Bess Wohl’s play Small Mouth Sounds begins from this existential place and ends with a spiritual cleanse.
In the play, a group of people sojourn to a metaphysical retreat in the woods. They are instructed this will be a silent meditation. Perhaps by quieting their defenses, they will learn what it means to truly let go.
This is such a befitting piece for Honest Pint Theatre’s comeback. It is indicative of the types of stories Co-Artistic Directors Susannah Hough and David Henderson seem to savor, those which hearten their patrons to connect with the art on a visceral level.
Of course, in order to achieve this flow state, there needs to be a perfect storm of performance, direction, and design.
Wohl has scripted pages of detailed character descriptions for texture and depth. The actors fixate on these backstories (which remain a mystery to the audience), immerse themselves in the physicality of character completely, and dole out nonverbal clues. The characters might seem repressed. The acting is not.
A Director Who Cares
The fearlessness they display onstage is a testament to a receptive director off. It is clear, Jeri Lynn Schulke has created a culture of trust, respect, and consent. It is also worth noting, the pandemic interrupted the production process. Instinctively, Schulke understood the need to give the actors space to recommit fully. Subsequently, she enlisted the help of an intimacy director (Tara Nicole Williams). Pre-COVID, a show like this wouldn’t have been easy. Post-COVID, aiming for this kind of closeness seems disconcerting, at least in theory.
But Schulke’s holistic approach is disarming, not only for her actors, but also the audience. The hypnotic music, the dreamy lighting, the zen minimalism, draw the audience in, not as passive observers, but as enthusiastic participants. By the time the play is over, the audience is transformed, having experienced a type of collective catharsis that can only happen in this type of sanctuary… the theater.
The Honest Pint Theatre production of Small Mouth Sounds runs through April 2. For more information visit https://www.honestpinttheatre.org/.