Off Broadway

Aisle Say On The Square: When No Words Speak Volumes And Too Many Can’t Say Enough

Aisle Say On The Square: When No Words Speak Volumes And Too Many Can’t Say Enough
Bess Wohl

Bess Wohl

There couldn’t be two more contrasting productions to have seen in a single week.

Small Mouth Sounds

Small Mouth Sounds

In Small Mouth Sounds, which transferred from Ars Nova to the Signature Center for an extended run, playwright Bess Wohl gives us a number of disparate characters who have sought out a new age retreat in a remote, wooded area, to find, or possibly to reclaim, some hidden balance. Since almost from the beginning, they are given the directive that talking is never permitted, except for certain highly specific times and places, what we divine about them has to be drawn from silent reaction, silent interaction and the few private moments of silence-violation or permitted speech. Right from the start, we know that Jan (Max Baker), nearing senior citizenry, is sad about something. We know that Ridney (Babak Tafti) is perhaps less of a stranger to mind-and-body cleansing than the others, which of course suggests that there’s another facet to that. We know that Ned (Brad Heberlee) is kind of a hapless dork, but hardly oblivious to or at peace with his dorkness. We know that Joan (Marcia DeBonis) and Judy (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) are a couple, and that Judy is possibly terminally ill. We know that Alicia (Zoë Winters) is often late, has relationship problems and likely patterns of toxic dependency. And we know that Teacher (JoJo Gonzalez), the guide and guru we experience as only a voice, has more of a real life outside the retreat than he wants us to be aware of.

Or should I say “that she wants us to know about”? Because the evening I attended, Teacher was played by standby Carmen Zilles. Gender is actually irrelevant to her function. As to the others—

—in writing this I went online for photos and discovered that in the full, original Ars Nova cast, the ones who departed before this extension were physically, ethnically, quite different. And while the rest of the roles are not gender-interchangeable, the remainder of the leeway, within the parameters of “what we know,” as described above, is rather extraordinary. And it’s further testament to the accomplishment of Small Mouth Sounds, which manages the equally extraordinary feat of both reducing human communication to its essentials, and exploding the range of emotion, depth and subtext possible when the need to break through barriers perforce becomes primal.

Rachel Chavkin has the extraordinary cast directed on a runway stage configuration, so effectively that you too feel a part of the grand experiment. This platy should have a long shelf life, just for the challenge and fascination it will hold for future companies and production-makers.

 N. C. Hunter

N. C. Hunter

A Day by the Sea, revived by the Mint Theatre in their new home is conversely all about language, and in fact, its profligacy with words leads to a run time of nearly three hours (including two intermissions). And indeed, its modus operandi is often to show how lanuage obscures communication. Oft-described as somewhat Chekhovian, British dramatist N. C. Hunter’s 1953 play gives us—among others—the gathering of a family and ancillary personnel, replete a loyal, homely servant (Polly McKie) in love with the defeated middle-aged doctor incapable of returning her affection (Philip Goodwin), for whose family she has long worked; a crabby old uncle (George Morfogen); the woman who got away years ago (Katie Firth) from an oblivious man—

—and centrally the oblivious man himself, a career diplomat (Julian Elfer), who learns from his superior (Sean Gormley) that he’s being recalledfrom his post in France for being too meticulous for diplomacy.

A Day By the Sea

Photo: A Day By the Sea Curzon Dobell; Julian Elfer; Katie Firth; Philip Goodwin; Sean Gormley; Polly McKie Kylie McVey; George Morfogen; ?Athan Sporek PHOTO CREDIT – Richard Termine

A Day By the Sea is a piece that could easily falter and become dull, but it gives director Austin Pendleton the kind of actors’ scene-work at which he thrives, and with an interesting, often excellent cast (supplemented by Jill Tanner, Curzon Dobell, Kylie McVey and Athan Sporek), he manages to maintain audience concentration and engagement for the full run time handily. It’s a fine, bittersweet way to end New York’s theatrical summer.

Return to the Aisle Say home page

Go to the Aisle Say New York City & Environs Index

Off Broadway

David Spencer is an award-winning composer-lyricist, lyricist-librettist, author and musical theatre teacher. He has written music and lyrics for the Richard Rodgers Development Award-winning musical The Fabulist, which also contributed to his winning a Kleban lyrics award and several Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Theatre Foundation grants. He is also lyricist-librettist for two musicals with composer Alan Menken: Weird Romance (WPA 1992, York 2004) and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, which had its sold out, extended world premiere in Montreal in Summer 2015; cast album release soon. He made his professional debut in 1984 with the English Adaptation of La Bohéme at the Public Theatre; and he has since written music and lyrics for Theatreworks/USA’s all-new, award-winning Young Audience versions of The Phantom of the Opera (1996) and Les Misérables (1999) (book and direction for both by Rob Barron). Currently he is writing book, music and lyrics for a musical based on the iconic Russian novel The Golden Calf. Spencer’s published books are the Alien Nation novel Passing Fancy (Pocket, 1994), The Musical Theatre Writer’s Survival Guide (Heinemann, 2005, a regularly reprinted industry standard) and the script of Weird Romance (Samuel French, 1993). He is on faculty and teaches at the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop and has taught at HB Studio, the Workshop Studio Theater and Goldsmith’s College in London. His primary professional affiliations are BMI, The Dramatists Guild and The International Association of Media Tie-in Writers.

More in Off Broadway

Donna Lynne Champlin, Marc Kudisch, Mary Testa and More Star In It’s a Wonderful Life

Suzanna BowlingDecember 6, 2022

Theatre News: Moulin Rouge!, The Great Gatsby, Lillias White, KPOP, The Wiz and Ain’t No Mo

Suzanna BowlingDecember 2, 2022

A Fond Farewell To Irene Cara

Suzanna BowlingNovember 27, 2022

Off Broadway League Announces 2022 Holiday Toy Drive

Suzanna BowlingNovember 23, 2022

The Mint Theatre Unearths Noel Coward’s The Rat Trap

Suzanna BowlingNovember 22, 2022

A Man of No Importance Comes Out Beautiful and Strong

RossNovember 21, 2022

Catch as Catch Can An Actor’s Showcase

Suzanna BowlingNovember 21, 2022

The York Theatre Celebrated With the 30th Oscar Hammerstein Award Gala

Genevieve Rafter KeddyNovember 20, 2022

Music and CD News: Funny Girl, Between the Lines, Matilda The Musical, Love in Hate Nation, Darling Grenadine, Sondheim Unplugged: The NYC Sessions – Volume Three, Edmund Bagnell and Concord Theatricals Recordings

Suzanna BowlingNovember 19, 2022