Tricia Stiller/review: Audience along for ride in 'Small Mouth Sounds'

Tricia Stiller/review: Audience along for ride in 'Small Mouth Sounds'

"Be still and know ..."

For playwright Bess Wohl, an avid traveler on life's spiritual highway, this opening directive from Psalm 46:10 must have been the white noise in her head as she put pen to paper to craft "Small Mouth Sounds," now playing at the Station Theatre in Urbana. Taking cues from a real-life experience, Wohl creates a unique theatrical exercise that finds its voice in awkward moments of silence.

Six chairs on an otherwise empty stage soon provide seating for a group of weary travelers seeking solace at a retreat far removed from whatever drove them there. Actually, five chairs. The sixth is quietly occupied for more than 30 minutes before the start of the play by perhaps the weariest of travelers (Gary Ambler). Completely focused, Ambler goes seemingly unnoticed as people find their seats, check their messages, make plans for the weekend.

The others arrive, each carefully crafted characters, to receive guidance and comfort from a legendary (and unseen) guru (voiced by Lincoln Machula). The hopelessly neurotic Ned (Jason Dockins); charismatic yoga instructor Rodney (Thomas Nicol), uptight Judy (Katie Baldwin Prosise), her stressed-out partner, Joan (AJ Curry), and the gorgeous mess Alicia (Faith Ramsey) join the quiet and broken Jan (Ambler).

All are waging internal battles with a variety of demons. Without the use of customary verbal banter, this talented ensemble, under the careful and thoughtful direction of Jacki Loewenstein, stretch themselves to convey their stories to us through a series of exercises.

Loewenstein employs clever stage direction that provides her cast with enough room to emerge, through their movements, with poignant portrayals that were both relatable and likeable.

The silence is at times deafening, the stillness broken only by audience response that is most often laughter. As was this venue's last production, "Title and Deed," "Small Mouth Sounds" is subjective, and audiences will respond according to their own filters. Wohl's writing invites us inward, taking us on a journey along with the characters onstage. As they symbolically watch their inner thoughts go up in flames, we too are changed somehow by the experience.

Though I know it's not everyone's cup of tea, I particularly enjoy when post-show conversations reveal completely different interpretations of a character or a the meaning behind a certain nuance.

It's an extension of the experience, which is like getting a free dessert after a fine meal. A great way to end an evening.

Tricia Stiller is the downtown division manager for Bloomington Community Development and is the artistic director for Bloomington's Summer Theatre Program.

Topics (1):Theater