Kedar K. Adour

Performing Arts Reviews

Small Mouth Sounds takes mindfulness on a bumpy journey at A.C.T.’s Strand Theatre.

l-r:Ben Beckley (Ned),Brenna Palughi (Alicia), Connor Barrett (Jan), Edward Chin-Lyn (Rodney), Socorro Santiago (Joan), and Cherene Snow (Judy). Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson. © T Charles Erickson Photography,

SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS: Comedy by Bess Wohl. Directed by Rachel Chavkin. A.C.T.’s Strand Theater @1127 Market St., San Francisco, CA. 415-749-2228 or 

October 11–December 10, 201. Rating: ★★★★☆

Small Mouth Sounds takes mindfulness on a bumpy journey at A.C.T.’s Strand Theatre.

As meditation and mindfulness became ubiquitous entrepreneurs stepped into the milieu and now there are a multitude of retreats in which persons can participate and many of them for a hefty price. The retreat in Small Mouth Sounds is a clothing optional silent one (cost is not mentioned) with specific requirements beside the no speaking rule. An unseen instructor (Orville Mendoza) with a echoing voice over the sound system: “No smoking, no incense, no candles, no alcohol, and no phones.” Rules are made to be broken and each one is in this semi-satirical show with some serious overtones intertwined with humor, frustration, eroticism and hope.

The six disparate characters have distinct characteristics and individual reasons for being there. Who are these characters and why are they here must be deduced by their individual physical qualities and by their non-verbal interaction. At the opening there is an actual and symbolic rainstorm projected in the windows above bare stage set with six folding chairs in a row with a single man silently sitting on one of them.  We learn his name in Jan (Connor Barrett).

As the other five enter we bit by bit learn their idiosyncrasies if not their full reasons for being there. They are all emotionally damaged and when the unseen guru asks them to write their intentions for being there, those written notes are kept secret and will play a role in a partial denouement.

Rodney (Edward Chin-Lyn) is a yoga guru who accepts the no clothing option and has a strong attachment to young Alicia (Brenna Palughi) who frantically sneaks off to use her cell phone attempting to call her lover who has abandoned her. Ned (Ben Beckley) is a bundle of nerves and he too is attracted to Alicia but loses out to Rodney.

The last to appear are an older lesbian couple Joan (Cocorro Santiago) and Judy (Cherene Snow) who are in a non-verbal battle on whom was responsible for their late arrival.

They are assigned rooms fitted out with spare basics including a floor roll-up mat for sleeping. Insecure Ned ends up with Rodney that is not a good idea when Rodney lights a candle and incense as he meditates (all no-nos of course). Ned’s physical reactions do not need words.

When Joan and Judy unpack, Joan has a packet of Candy and Judy breaks out her laptop their physical reactions with hands flying is quite humorous with neither being dominant.

Alica is shocked to learn that she is bunking with silent Jan who does not admonish her for bringing a bundle of party food. They bond when Jan shows her a photo of a young boy, apparently Jan’s son who is no longer alive.

It is a five day retreat and each day brings on new interactions that are superbly acted out by every member of the cast. Most are serious, others are intimate and others are funny-funny.

The most poignant scene is actually a monologue by the neediest Ned that gives ample reason for his being there and allows author Bess Wohl to partially justify the need for retreats to rejuvenate one’s personal psyche. Ned opines that the world is in a terrible mess: the arctic ice is melting, the Great Barrier Reef is disappearing and the world is ravaged by superstorms.”

Satire takes a back seat to this explosive scene. We never know if the intentions of all or any of the participants are achieved or if Wohl is justifying retreats. However, the acting and directing without words create a solid “should see” evening.

CAST: Connor Barrett (Jan), Ben Beckley (Ned), Edward Chin-Lyn (Rodney), Orville Mendoza (Teacher), Brenna Palughi (Alicia), Socorro Santiago (Joan), and Cherene Snow (Judy).

CREATIVE TEAM: Laura Jellinek (Scenic Designer), Tilly Grimes (Costume Designer), Mike Inwood(Lighting Designer), Stowe Nelson (Sound Designer), Andrew Schneider (Projection Designer), and Noah Mease (Prop Designer).

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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