Theatre Review: ‘Small Mouth Sounds’ at the Alliance Theatre

 

Owais Ahmed, Ericka Ratcliff, Andrew Benator, Alexandra Ficken and Jeremy Aggers. (Photos by Greg Mooney)
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Alliance Theatre is producing Bess Wohl’s play “Small Mouth Sounds,” a 80-minute play directed by Susan V. Booth, at their intimate Hertz Stage, running through Oct. 27.

Since time is of the essence, I shall borrow the synopsis furnished in the always interesting theatre program: “In the overwhelming quiet of the woods, six strangers in search of serenity meet at a silent wellness retreat for what they hope will be a life-changing five-day experience. Guided by an unseen guru, they are challenged to abandon technology and reset. As they confront internal demons both profound and absurd, their vows of silence collide with the achingly human need to connect.”

The Alliance is quite serious about this “meditation of a play,” as Ms. Booth calls it, because there are three essays in the program about meditation, mindfulness, and transformation—including one by the Emory University School of Medicine. So don’t even think about arguing with it.

Ms. Wohl herself chimes in and declares that “by the end of the play, they [the audience] too have had some kind of spiritual experience of being in silence together.” Well, ideally, yes.

I’m not making light of anyone’s spiritual beliefs; I think meditation is wonderful. It’s just that all these essays become an oblique précis. There are probably “too many notes,” as some rival of Mozart’s said to him.

Ericka Ratcliff and Jeremy Aggers

Fortunately, the human touch of seven live, very talented actors with a sense of humor and irony save the day. One of these is voice-over artist January LaVoy, who plays the unseen guru. (She reminds me of the late metaphysical teacher Louise Hay, who was famous for her soothing, beautiful voice.) She says there will be no cell phones, no smoking, no public nudity (except at the lake), and especially, no talking.

But rules are made to be broken, and all of these (we see no nudity) soon are. Oh yes, most amusing of all may be when Ms. LaVoy’s guru interrupts her instructions with, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to take this call.” Twice she does it, proving that even gurus are human.

The live actors (those we see) are some of Atlanta’s very best: Jeremy Aggers, Owais Ahmed (he’s based in Chicago and is also a practicing Yogi; it shows; he’s quite magnetic), Andrew Benator, Alexandra Ficken, Courtney Patterson, and Ericka Ratcliff.

Andrew Benator, who couldn’t give a bad performance if he tried, plays Ned, who is full of hard-earned angst. He alone gets a chance to vocally unload his woes; he’s excellent.

Courtney Patterson and Ericka Ratcliff play a lesbian couple; they are the only group members who knew each other prior to the retreat, and they’re having relationship speed bumps. The two actors are quite fine.

Alexandra Ficken and Jeremy Aggers

Rodney (Owais Ahmed) in his Buddhist-flavored clothing seems quite intense and appears an ideal candidate for the retreat. That is, until he meets Alicia (Alexandra Ficken); these two, are instantly attracted to each other and have an offstage liaison.

Leslie M. Taylor’s scenic design works beautifully; it’s simple and rustic and conveys just the right ambience.

You may wonder how a play with no talking has so much talking. Well, things happen. It’s still the real world; and there really are long periods of silence. One would think that meditation and the art of live theatre make strange bedfellows. They do. The play is not dramatically compelling in the usual sense. Yet somehow you can leave unusually moved and even a bit enlightened. It must be magic.

For tickets and information, visit alliancetheatre.org.

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