BC Theater Reopens Doors With Play “Small Mouth Sounds”

Small Mouth Sounds promotional image./Dept. of Theater at Brooklyn College

 

By Alexandria Woolfe

 

   On Friday, Oct. 15, the Brooklyn College Theater Department kicked off the 2021-22 production season with Bess Wohl’s “Small Mouth Sounds,” the first production with an in-person audience since the campus reopened this fall.

   The play tells the story of six people on a mission to explore something within themselves amidst an occasionally uncomfortable silent retreat.

   As you meet the group members, you make first assumptions, only to throw it all away by the end of the play. The characters are introduced one by one, starting with Jan (Eric Smith), who doesn’t appear to be more than meets the eye. He’s a quiet, well-dressed man who takes the silent oath of the retreat seriously.

   You then meet Rodney (Kevin Herrera), who appears to be in his element, knows how to meditate, and immediately your mind begins to wonder why he would sign up for this kind of retreat. After Rodney settles in, Ned (Ian Parker) comes in looking quite the opposite. He is disheveled and not sure of what to expect once the retreat begins. He does seem eager to begin though.

   The next two characters were arguably the most intriguing characters in the story. A young lesbian couple named Judy (Sammie Richardson) and Joan (Jennifer Martinelli) burst into the waiting room mid-argument. The two argue over typical relationship issues, but their love and bond appear to be strong.

   The last and most dysfunctional in terms of appearance is Alicia (Courtney Mentzel), who flies into the room as the teacher has begun explaining the rules of the retreat. Her ability to be disruptive, making numerous phone calls throughout the first act, helps her character arc as she comes to face and accepts a new situation. 

   What is so captivating about the story is how much you learn about the characters solely through facial and body expressions. Most of the play is performed in silence, and while there are a few lines of dialogue, the strength in silence for the whole retreat is beautiful. As they say, silence speaks volumes.

   While it isn’t explicitly stated what the retreat’s purpose is, you can see that each character is in fact working toward a better version of themselves. 

   With “Small Mouth Sounds” being the first production BC has put on since the campus shut down in March 2020, the buzz and excitement clearly filled the air as the response by audience members was well received. Laughter and excitement were felt by everyone but especially by director Ann Noling.

   “Directing the first show back was challenging,” Noling told The Vanguard. “We were all discovering new challenges and figuring out the new procedures as we went.”

   Speaking on COVID restrictions for cast and crew during the rehearsal process, Noling also said there was an uplifting tone in the air.

 

   “There was also excitement around our production because it was the first one to be back in person, which added to the joy when it finally all came together,” added Noling.

   She later expressed some of the hardships she faced opening the production season amidst COVID restrictions and guidelines.

   “It was certainly challenging to rehearse and have [an] audience with the new safety guidelines, but we made it work, and you get used to the restrictions,” said Noling. “The hardest thing was not being able to invite our friends and family from outside Brooklyn College to come see our show.”

   Noling noted that she felt “Small Mouth Sounds” fits with where everyone is currently emotionally. 

   “I chose this play a very long time ago now [in] spring 2019,” said Noling. “At the time, I was attracted to it because I thought it would be a good but achievable challenge for all the students involved.”

   The story had an extremely relatable aspect in terms of the themes and topics shown or rather expressed silently through the character’s movements. Noling even saw the play in a new light as the opening day drew closer.

   “This fall, when we returned to the play, however, I had a new appreciation for the story itself. It is a play about lonely grieving people who come together and find comfort and peace through learning to sit with each other in their pain,” she said, noting how she believes the play speaks to today more than ever.

   “It is a very appropriate story for this moment, after so many months alone in isolation and after so much loss and grief, and at a time when we are all learning to share space in person together again.” 

   Noling is very proud of what she, the rest of the crew, and the cast have come up with despite the trouble of the pandemic. 

   “​​For most of us, this is also our last show as students at Brooklyn College–most of our team graduated during the pandemic,” said Noling. “So this show was an opportunity to get closure to our time in graduate school and to work together one last time.”

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