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Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

Small Mouth Sounds
Philadelphia Theatre Company
Review by Rebecca Rendell | Season Schedule

Also see Rebecca's reviews of The Bluest Eye and Lydie Breeze Trilogy Part II:Aipotu

Socorro Santiago and Cherene Snow
Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Ars Nova's production of Bess Wohl's Small Mouth Sounds is ending its multi-city U.S. tour at The Philadelphia Theatre Company. Rachel Chavkin directs this highly original, often hysterical, and occasionally moving work. There are plenty of flaws and any play where most of the casts is silent is not for everyone, but if you are interested in some fun innovative theater, this is it.

The premise is simple yet intriguing; Six urbanites attending a week-long retreat in the woods agree to give up cell phones, fast food, and comfy beds in hopes of obtaining some spiritual enlightenment. When the resident guru, referred to as The Teacher, informs this motley crew they are to remain silent for the duration, everything from personal introductions to room sharing becomes humorously complex. There is a narrative of sorts, but the real action is in the way the characters develop and interact in near total silence.

Socorro Santiago and Cherene Snow are absolutely tremendous as Joan and Judy, a charming middle-aged couple working through some serious issues. Joan's enthusiasm is infectious and Judy's incredulous attitude is uproarious. Communicating volumes with a single gesture or sideways glance, the duo illustrates exactly how clearly a person can speak in silence. Edward Chin-Lyn shows off an intimidating aura of confidence and a chiseled physique as Rodney, a yoga video instructor and the only participant who seems comfortable with everything going on. Obviously uncomfortable but remarkably well provisioned Alicia, played by Brenna Palughi, effectively communicates a whole evolution of heartbreak and emotional angst. Kindly Jan, played by Connor Barrett, conveys an acute but quiet sadness, while Brad Heberlee's Ned comes off as a whiney millennial version of Job. Orville Mendoza rounds out the cast as the often heard but never seen Teacher, who dispensers glib wisdom while struggling with problems of his own.

The unique set up, well defined characters, and talented ensemble come together to create some extraordinary moments on stage. An extended sequence of the entire ensemble getting ready for bed is brilliant, a scene beside the campus swimming hole goes from painfully awkward to laugh out loud funny, and a smoke fueled "chat" between Judy and Jan is a joy to watch. There are also a number of unfortunately slow-paced monologues (especially hard to swallow in a play where silence is the basic premise), an uninspired and occasionally distracting set design, and a lot of missed opportunities for thoughtful or funny interactions. Aggressive editing (I would take out or drastically shorten every monologue) could solve the biggest of these problems. Silence may not be golden in Small Mouth Sounds, but it is certainly fertile ground for creativity, humor and insight.

Small Mouth Sounds, through April 1, 2018, at Philadelphia Theatre Company at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia PA. For tickets visit or call 215-985-0420.

Connor Barrett: Jan
Brad Heberlee: Ned
Edward Chin-Lyn: Rodney
Orville Mendoza: Teacher
Brenna Palughi: Alicia
Socorro Santiago: Joan
Cherene Snow: Judy

Set Design: Laura Jellinek
Costume Design: Tilly Grimes
Lighting Design: Mike Inwood
Props Design: Noah Mease
Sound Design: Stowe Nelson
Video Design: Andrew Schneider
Associate Director: Lauren Z. Adleman
Production Stage Manager: James Steele