Bess Wohl’s critically acclaimed 2016 play, “Small Mouth Sounds,” sees six people seeking spiritual guidance and inner healing at a silent retreat.
But don’t worry, it isn’t a silent play.
“They’re trying to stay silent, but that’s difficult” says Laine Satterfield, director of the upcoming Cadence Theatre Company production. “It’s a struggle to stay silent —and they don’t always succeed.”
Wohl’s script does include some dialogue at the beginning of the play, when characters first enter, as well as voice-over from an unseen guru known only as the Teacher, a disembodied voice who will guide these six characters through their silent spiritual awakenings. The script also includes lengthy, highly detailed character descriptions and back stories.
Satterfield says the challenge for them is to inform the audience of all these things without words.
“It’s the kind of work I love because it’s all about the actors, living onstage, those subtle nuances of behaviors that Bess Wohl put into this script,” she says. “It’s also finding all of these moments that aren’t silent, the modes of expression we make without words.”
At its core, Satterfield says, this is a play about our shared need for human connection, and the ways in which we heal from our trauma. It deals with some heavy themes and features some adult content: Cadence recommends this show for patrons aged 18 and older. But it’s also very funny.
“It’s dramedy at its best: funny and heart-wrenching,” says Maura Mazurowski, who plays Alicia, a woman seeking a spiritual experience after a devastating breakup. “I think my favorite line about her is that she’s the kind of person who makes a lot of noise even when she tries to be quiet. I’ve had a lot of fun just being noisy, being loud.”
Mazurowski says the humor lies in the frustrated efforts of these characters to communicate with one another.
“I think it’s so funny because it’s an opportunity to watch how people act alone, even though we’re all onstage together,” she says. “If you just watch someone being who they are, in a quiet moment, that’s kind of funny, and you can read what’s going on inside their head but they can’t speak and say their minds.”
As a part of the Acts of Faith Festival, this show is so fundamentally tied to the concepts of wellness and healing, and Satterfield says she wanted to expand on the usual talk backs to offer audiences an extra experience. To that end, Cadence has created the Centered Stage series of wellness workshops, which will be offered after select Thursday and Sunday performances in the Theatre Gym. Cadence has partnered with community healers from the Innerwork Center, Lucid Living, the Indigenous Healing Arts Institute and Nitya Living to offer six 30-minute workshops, all free and open to all ticket holders, space permitting. Interested patrons can follow #centeredstageatcadence on social media for updates on this series.
“This is a comedy about life being hard. It’s very funny. But comedy comes out of truth, and it’s also absolutely tied into healing,” Satterfield says.
There are clear connections, she adds, between “the act of being present in a yoga class and being present in a theater.” Both are exercises in mindfulness, ones that occur in the presence of others, all silently experiencing something personal, together.
With “Small Mouth Sounds” and their Centered Stage workshop series, Cadence Theatre Company invites audiences to experience mindfulness beyond the boundaries of the play.
Cadence Theatre Company’s “Small Mouth Sounds” runs from March 7-29 at the Theatre Gym, 114 W. Broad St. Tickets cost $37. virginiarep.org.