Robrt Pela: Review Of 'Small Mouth Sounds' At Stray Cat Theatre

Published: Friday, August 23, 2019 - 9:13am
Updated: Friday, February 21, 2020 - 8:59am
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It’s a wild, buzzing, device-driven world. Theater critic Robrt Pela has this review of a play that tries to keep quiet:

Life is a messy, uncomfortable business, and playwright Bess Wohl is here to remind us of that. If her play, "Small Mouth Sounds," isn’t especially graceful, that’s fair enough: neither are the themes it gently pokes into.

There’s a deeper, darker canvas behind the laughs, and it’s that canvas, splashed with bright wit and a handful of insights, that shines through in the play’s new Stray Cat Theatre production, directed by Michael Peck. Wohl doesn’t hesitate to kick the comedy aside, and with Peck’s assistance, looks her audience square in the eye and reminds us of the pain of loss and the various inequities of our noisy world.

The six CQ inhabitants of that world are gathered for a week-long wilderness retreat. They’re here to escape the relentless whirring and beeping and pinging of the 21st century. The seminar leader, heard but never seen, offers self-help truisms before dismissing the players to the wild.

The play’s conceit is that much of it, in honor of the retreat’s vow of silence is performed without dialogue. Free of the distraction of small talk, social media, and endless face-timing, Wohl’s people quietly go mad.

Well, mostly quietly. One expects, in a play devoted to silence, that there will eventually be a long, silence-shattering monologue, and there it is, late in act one. Fortunately, it is delivered by Louis Farber in a noisy rat-a-tat-tat that’s both hilarious and unsettling. The rest of the time, we become Wohl’s coauthors, filling in the unspoken gaps with what we think we see other people doing.

The comedy covers some familiar emotional ground, but in unfamiliar ways. The humor in "Small Mouth Sounds" — and there’s quite a lot of it — is its red herring. There’s some real sorrow behind these laughs, about the losses we’ve endured and those we’re dreading; about betrayal and fear and making money from other people’s distress.

In the meantime there are stage gimmicks, a great deal of pantomime, and some darn good acting, particularly from Farber, whose body language tells us everything.

"Small Mouth Sounds" is about how we communicate in the new world; a mindful comedy about the power of stillness in our age of manic multitasking. What Beth Wohl knows about the human heart is enough to break ours, and what she knows about the comedy behind tragedy will please you.

"Small Mouth Sounds" plays at Stray Cat Theatre through August 24, 2019.

Robrt Pela’s reviews appear in the Phoenix New Times