SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS

The Cadence Theatre Company Reboots Show Interrupted by Pandemic

“Once you see the ocean, you may not be able to return to the well.”

A Second-Look Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: Virginia Rep/Cadence Theatre Company

At: Theatre Gym, Virginia Repertory Center, 114 West Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23220

Performances: September 23 – October 3, 2021.

Ticket Prices: $40.

Info: (804) 282-2620 or https://va-rep.org/_small-mouth-cadence-theatre.html

NOTE1: This show contains brief nudity, adult content, and the burning of incense and herbal cigarettes. Recommended for patrons 18+ (ID required). Patrons under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

NOTE2: Due to the staging requirements of this production, we will not be offering late seating.

SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS originally opened in March 2020 and was cut off mid-run by “The Great Pandemic.” I reviewed it here under the title SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS: A Play Without Words, and was more than happy to return for the reboot that opened in the same space September 23. (Hmmm, I wonder if Emily Hake Massie’s lovely new-age yurt set remained in place during the long intermission?) At any rate, it didn’t seem to be necessary to write a whole new review, since what I wrote the first time seemed to withstand the test of time. (I even enjoyed reading it myself!) What I will do is note the differences, changes, updates, and tricks of my own mind, and then re-post the original review below to save you the time of having to search for it. (You’re welcome!)

There have been a few changes since the time BC*. The actors enter wearing masks, which they remove on entering the yurt, and they pass around a bottle of hand sanitizer when the unseen Teacher has an uncontrollable coughing fit. There is also an amusing little bit of choreographed movement involving the choice of whether to shake hands or substitute a fist bump or elbow bump. And perhaps most significantly, Evan Nastaff has replaced Adam Valentine as Rodney, the passive-aggressive instructor.

I don’t know whether it was an effect of memory or time or actual changes, but it seems that the first time around I learned more about some of these characters. Memory does deceive, but I thought Ned, the only character who has a sizeable speaking role, had two meetings with The Teacher, and my memory insisted that not only had Alicia managed to receive a strong enough signal in the mountains of upstate New York to leave a message for her estranged boyfriend, Fred, but that we had learned more detail about the strained relationship between Joan (Jenny Hundley) and Judy (Lauren Leinhaas-Cook). Well, after reading my original review I concede that memory is not a reliable witness. But this much is true: Jenny Hundley appears to have developed her character, Joan, even further; her facial expressions are hilarious.

Still, I am SURE Adam Valentine gave us a full frontal, whereas Evan Nastaff teased the audience and flashed his fellow cast members. Nastaff filled this role nicely and fit in with the original cast as if had been born for the role.

*NOTE: Yes. You guessed correctly. “BC” means Before COVID-19.

MY ORIGINAL REVIEW OF MARCH 8, 2020:

It isn’t often that someone writes a play that requires the actors to take a vow of silence. But that is exactly what happens in Beth Wohl’s play, Small Mouth Sounds (premiered in 2015), when six people in search of themselves – or something or someone other than their themselves – arrive at an upstate New York center for a silent retreat. Small Mouth Sounds was inspired by the author’s own retreat experience.

Naturally, things do not unfold smoothly as each character reveals their special brand of quirkiness or unveils their personal demons. Judy and Joan are a couple – two middle-aged women who are struggling to shoulder the burden of Judy’s cancer diagnosis. Alicia is a young woman who apparently just broke up with someone named Fred; she keeps dialing his number and is constantly distracted by her forbidden cell phone. She is perturbed to discover that she has been assigned a male roommate.

Ned and Rodney are two of the most interesting members of this unlikely collection of people. Ned has had an unimaginable string of bad luck: he fell off a mountain and broke his skull; his wife started sleeping with his younger brother; he started drinking and joined AA only to have his sponsor commit suicide, and his dog got run over by a car. That’s just a small sampling of all that he’s been through. Rodney is a passive aggressive yoga instructor who smugly and silently snubs everyone else, shows off his yoga skills, removes his wedding ring as soon as he arrives, and is the first to strip down for the clothing optional lakeside activities.

Oh yes, there is a bit of nudity – full frontal – and some “herbal tobacco” and Palo Santo wood gets burned onstage. This play is recommended for viewers 18 years and older. But, to get back to the cast, one of the greatest surprises comes in the final scene from the mild-mannered Jan.

This group of seekers comes under the care and watchful eye of a gruff-voiced guru, an unseen and nameless Teacher who coughs and sneezes into her microphone and appears to be on the verge of a breakdown. The audience never sees the Teacher, Marisa Guida, until she comes out to take her bow at the end. Guida is the only character allowed to speak throughout the play. [Note: Guida did not come out for a bow in the reboot.]

The marvelous cast consists of Lauren Leinhaas-Cook as Judy (the one with cancer); Jenny Hundley as her partner Joan (the bubbly one who always seems to have a small wrapped candy); Maura Mazurowski as Alicia (the young one with all the bags and baggage – and snacks); Jim Morgan as Ned (the one who has all the bad luck); Adam Valentine as Rodney (the passive-aggressive yoga instructor); and Larry Cook as Jan (the one whose secret I will not reveal here, but about whom I will post a nagging question at the end of this review). What makes them all so marvelous is that, except for a rather long monologue by Ned, and a brief but sharp exchange between Joan and Judy, we learn all we know about these characters through facial expressions, gestures, and a few grunts. In order to successfully carry off a play in which the main characters are all required to take a vow of silence, these actors had to act their butts off!

Running 70 minutes with no intermission, Small Mouth Sounds is set in a yurt-shaped structure with large open windows and chakra symbols painted on the walls. The only furniture is a few backless wooden stools (which Judy emphatically complains about) and some floor pillows. At night, the campers make do with their yoga mats as they fight mosquitos and shiver at the sounds of growling bears and other unknown animals. Actors enter down the center aisle, sometimes rather noisily, and the top of the set extends over the audience making us feel that we are inside the experience – or experiment, which I believe is the word used in the opening seconds – perhaps even in the position of the Teacher.

Joey Luck designed the sound – a variety of ambient sounds including insects and birds and a bear or two, assorted snorts and grunts, and a torrential rainstorm. Rusty Wilson, Irene Ziegler, and the cast members contributed voice-overs and other vocals sounds. Sarah Grady’s costumes helped define the characters. This entire delightful production was directed by Laine Satterfield with a balance of structure and freedom that allowed humor to emerge quite naturally. The pacing was unhurried, yet never lagged, and the scenes perfectly captured the juxtaposition of the meditative environment with the characters’ personalities and problems. In her Director’s Note, Satterfield describes how, during their first week of rehearsal, the cast members lived key moments of their characters’ lives and even worked out timelines and bios.

[NOTE: The final paragraph of the original review was omitted as it contained the March 2020 production dates, which might have proven confusing to readers.]

**********

SPOILER ALERT

Now, for that question regarding Jan and his secret. . .Do not read this paragraph if you don’t want to know before you go. . .

So, in the final scene, it is revealed that Jan does not speak English. My question is, how was he able to read his information packet and follow the instructions of the Teacher? Hmm???

**********

To provide the highest level of safety, all patrons attending a show at the theatre are required to show proof of vaccination, or proof that they have received a negative COVID test by a professional technician within 48 hours of the performance date/time.

Patrons may show the vaccination card or a photo of the card on their phones when they arrive for the performance. If you are unable to be vaccinated, you may provide proof of a Rapid COVID-19 antigen test taken within 48 hours of your performance. At home tests will not be accepted.

In accordance with current city, state, and CDC guidance, face masks are REQUIRED at all times while you are in the building, regardless of whether or not you have been vaccinated.

Please see the VaRep Covid Safety FAQ for details.

SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS

Written by Bess Wohl

Directed by Laine Satterfield

CAST:

Teacher: Marisa Guida

Judy: Lauren Leinhaas-Cook

Joan: Jenny Hundley

Alicia: Maura Mazurowski

Ned: Jim Morgan

Rodney: Evan Nasteff

Jan: Larry Cook

Voice-Over Credits: Rusty Wilson as “Fred,” Irene Ziegler as “Voicemail Guidance,” & other recorded vocal sounds including “The Bear,” performed by The Cast

CREATIVE TEAM:

Assistant Director: Kelsey Schneider (original, pre-pandemic); Jessie Fidler (current reboot)

Scenic Designer: Emily Hake Massie

Costume Designer: Sarah Grady

Lighting Designer: Andrew Bonniwell

Properties Designer: Ellie Wilder

Scenic Charge: Emily Hake Massie

Sound Designer: Joey Luck

Dramaturg: Lissa Ray

Technical Director: Tommy Hawfield

Stage Manager: Alleigh Scantling

Production Managers: Alleigh Scantling (both original & reboot); Kerri Lynch (original) & Ginnie Willard (reboot)

SETTING & TIME:

Upstate New York. Present day. Late summer.

DETAILS:

Performed in one act without intermission.

There is brief nudity, adult content, and the burning of Palo Santo wood and herbal tobacco.

Parental discretion advised.

Photos by: Jason Collins Photography

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Author: jdldances

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer, born and raised in Brooklyn, NY and transplanted to Richmond, VA. A retiree from both the New York City and Richmond City Public School systems, she is currently an Adjunct Instructor for the Department of Dance and Choreography at Virginia Commonwealth University, and holds the degrees of BS and MA in Dance and Dance Education (New York University), MSEd in Early Childhood Education (Brooklyn College, CUNY), and is currently working on her dissertation in Educational Leadership (Regent University). Julinda is the Richmond Site Leader for TEN/The Eagles Network and the East Region Coordinator for the International Dance Commission and has worked in dance ministry all over the US and abroad (Bahamas, Barbados, Haiti, Jamaica, Kenya, Puerto Rico). She is licensed in dance ministry by the Eagles International Training Institute (2012), and was ordained in dance ministry through Calvary Bible Institute and Seminary, Martinez, GA (2009).

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