A silent retreat fails to provide enlightenment in Small Mouth Sounds | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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A silent retreat fails to provide enlightenment in Small Mouth Sounds

Behold another exemplary production from A Red Orchid.


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Words have failed everybody in Bess Wohl's play before it even starts. They are on a silent retreat in the woods of upstate New York, where bears and mosquitos give city people on vacation from society a sense of roughing it. The six individuals who appear here file in without a backstory. What can be known about them emerges piecemeal, one gesture to the next. The silence amplifies slight things. Rodney (Travis A. Knight) can unroll a yoga mat like nobody's business, and so a domineering presence asserts itself early. Alicia (Heather Chrisler) snacks with a purpose, stays glued to her phone, has 20 pencils. The resident guru (Meighan Gerachis), whose disembodied voice plays over a loudspeaker, is being unprofessional; her phone keeps going off midsentence, interrupting a scattered, days-long sermon against material bondage. There are rivalries, crushes: everyone is misbehaving. Everyone talks. What started as a restorative fresh start turns quickly into an extension of home.

With crisp, surefooted direction from Shade Murray—100 minutes go by in a heartbeat—what this show lays bare isn't just the folly of faux enlightenment as a consumer good. Compassionately and with profound insight, it investigates the new distances that people feel between one another now in an impersonal, technologically obsessed world. For those who have grown accustomed to an extraordinary standard of work from A Red Orchid, this play's excellence is no surprise. The acting is exemplary from top to bottom, with particularly memorable performances from Chrisler and from Levi Holloway as the luckless Ned.   v

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