Small Mouth Sounds: less is
more with non-verbal theatre
The Canadian debut of the award-winning play at the Segal Centre studio
By Byron Toben
In 1947, famed architect Mies Van Der Rohe famously proclaimed that, in building design “less is more”.
Sixty-eight years later, in 2015, playwright Bess Wohl adapted that concept to live theatre with her award-winning play, Small Mouth Sounds.
Now it makes its Canadian debut at the Segal Centre studio.
Short of mime shows, the only minimal dialogue plays until now that come to mind are the Polish Jerzy Grotowski’s “grunt and groan” pieces of the 1960s and the long pauses in the plays of Harold Pinter.
Small Mouth Sounds is not entirely voiceless.
The one frequent (and unseen) speaker is the teacher (Marcelo Arroyo) who operates a yoga retreat centre in a woodsy rural retreat. Six disparate souls seeking Enlightenment sign up for a 5-day retreat (no refunds). Upon arrival, they are pledged to silence and following the various instructions of the unseen Voice. At times, this off-stage authoritarian sounding reminded me of The Wizard of Oz and I looked around for a canine-like Toto to unmask him.
The six assorted visitors made up for their silence by establishing their individuality by body movement, facial expressions and quirks. I had assumed that these mannerisms were the directorial input of the excellent director, Caitlin Murphy, but I have it on good authority that Ms. Wohl’s script went into great detail in these mannerisms.
The six assorted visitors made up for their silence by establishing their individuality by body movement, facial expressions and quirks.
A pleasure to see Alison Darcy back on stage as Joan. Warona Setshwaelo portrays her companion, Judy, stressed by the illness of her friend. Gabe Grey gets to contort as yoga expert Rodney who gets some extracurricular splashing in the river with arrival actress Alicia (Zara Jestadt). Matthew Gagnon as Ned, a hard luck loser, gets the one monologue to relate his woes leading up to this retreat stay. Lonely Ian (Andreas Apergis) seems to be a target for local mosquitoes.
Small Mouth Sounds continues at the Segal until March 1.
Images: Leslie Schachter
Byron Toben, a past president of The Montreal Press Club, has been WestmountMag.ca’s theatre reviewer since July 2015. Previously, he wrote for since terminated web sites Rover Arts and Charlebois Post, print weekly The Downtowner and print monthly The Senior Times. He also is an expert consultant on U.S. work permits for Canadians.