RWU Theatre’s “Small Mouth Sounds” Runs the Emotional Gambit


Courtesy of RWU Theatre

“Small Mouth Sounds” follows six people searching for answers on a silent retreat.

Nicole Kowalewski, Arts & Culture Editor

With RWU Theatre’s latest play, “Small Mouth Sounds” by Bess Wohl, what you see is what you get– literally.

Centered around a group of people struggling through an, often painfully, silent retreat, the play contains little conventional dialogue. This forces the characters to communicate through laughs, grunts, groans, sighs, coughs, grumbles, wails, hums and an endless amount of miming, causing viewers to wonder whether they have stumbled into an animated short film or a roomful of video game NPCs by accident. This does, however, place an unusual emphasis on physical acting, allowing the student actors to explore ways of expressing their character arcs and emotions in unconventional ways.

The lack of verbal dialogue unfortunately makes for a lot of confusion in regard to the audience as well as the play’s characters. I often found myself clueless as to what in the world the actors/characters were trying to say– a lesson in faulty communication that admittedly fits the show quite well. This same drawback, however, makes for a lot of situational and visual humor. Puzzling out what is happening on and beneath the surface with nothing much to go on besides an actor’s body language and an empty stage is surprisingly fascinating. Despite my lack of observational skills in terms of all the miming, I do not think I missed anything important, which is truly a testament to the cast’s skills.

The emphasis on silence and the small noises we make (both purposefully and inadvertently) causes the few monologues to take on a greater impact. Hearing an actor begin to speak is often startling, which is an essential element of both the humor and emotional impact of each spoken word segment. It was a relief to hear the characters unburden their souls aloud after being stuck in the dark for most of the scenes, especially given the actors’ superb execution. The lament of a hapless man, Ned (Connor Nugent) whose life is in shambles and the desperate plea of a tearful woman, Joan (Amanda Neff) to her critically ill lover seem to reach right through the fourth wall and tear one’s heart to pieces. Yet, the wordless cries of Joan’s partner, Judy (Devyn Siegel) are no less heart-wrenching.

“Small Mouth Sounds” is not so much a story as a portrait of life, captured through snapshots of six men and women’s overlapping searches for answers. Undoubtedly the most poignant scene (and probably what should have been the last) has the retreat’s teacher (Jayson Dixon) admitting that he has no answers to give, and is merely floundering along with his recruits. He does, however, offer one piece of truth: “You are not alone.”

“And if you don’t believe me,” he adds, pausing, “well, you are not alone.”

“Small Mouth Sounds” was written by Bess Wohl and is directed by Lori Lee Wallace. The play runs April 27, 29 and 30 at 7:30 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center (The Barn). Tickets may be purchased at the door in cash or at for $15 (general admission), $10 (senior citizens) or $5 (students).