UPPER JAY — What audiences don't hear is key to deciphering “Small Mouth Sounds” directed by Scott Renderer and opening today at The Recovery Lounge in Upper Jay.
Bess Wohl's 2016 Critics' Pick play intrigued him initially because it didn't seem to be a play that had any dialogue before he read it.
“I was really curious about how that's going to work,” Renderer said.
“So, I read the play. It's kind of difficult to read to begin with because it's mostly stage directions about what all the characters are doing and how they're making their way through this five-day silent retreat.”
SOUND OF SILENCE
Six runaways flee the urban life to get in tune with themselves in the woods.
The cast includes “The Teacher,” who is an off-stage character who has about 90 percent of the language.
“There are these teachings everyday that the students sit in a great hall and listen to,” Renderer said.
“There are six students, all different kinds of people. They are not students like kids. They are all grown up. I think the idea of the silence in the play really intrigued me.”
Playwright Harold Pinter has always employed silence in his plays.
“From the very beginning as a form of menace, I guess, and discomfort,” Renderer said.
Another of his favorite contemporary playwrights, Annie Baker, uses long silences in her plays.
“In an interview she said that she thought silence in the theater was probably the most uncomfortable thing for audiences over nudity, sexuality, profanity, racism, anything,” he said.
“I'm not sure I agree with her, but silence is a powerful thing in the theater. It's interesting silence being used with these other playwrights for a form of discomfort and menace.”
ACTIONS LOUDER THAN WORDS
The characters' five-day silent meditation retreat is supposed to transport them to Nirvana or close to it.
“I guess the intention is to help you gain some kind of spiritual enlightenment,” he said.
“So, the combination, the ideas there, I think are fascinating.”
The cast members are Simon Thomas-Train. Noel Mzese, Brian LaVallee, Shamim Allen, Eric Klotzko, Jody Leavens, Caitlin Scholl and Rosamond Lincoln Day.
“It's a directorial challenge to make a play where the characters have very little exposition,” Renderer said.
“You learn about them in different ways. There's a lot of behavioral patterns that replace the words that people use.”
The play is not void of dialogue.
“It's not all silent because they have a hard time keeping their mouth shut as people tend to do,” he said.
“That's what really drew me to the play and the ideas around the play and the challenges that ensued were pretty interesting.”
Different locations in the play presented staging challenges at the venue.
“Just how to keep a play alive when it is mostly people communicating with each other through gesture and whatever.
It's fairly amusing,” Renderer said.
“There are a lot of comic touches in the production. The audience will have a fairly subjective take on all of it because it's open for interpretation as to who these people are, what their problems are and what they are trying to communicate.”
DANCING IN THE DARK
The characters seek spiritual renewal but they confront internal demons, profound and absurd, while trying to maintain their vows of silence with strangers.
“Overall, its pretty clear as human beings we have a difficult time finding enlightenment and keeping silent and these things start to emerge, come out of us, that are not necessarily the most pleasant aspects of our nature,” Renderer said.
“There is a lot of attachment to things, which is sort of a no-no when you are pursuing this Buddhist endeavor.”
The play features a woodland scene with brief male nudity when a character goes skinny dipping.
The director and cast began in April and have been working on and off ever since.
“It's come together nicely,” Renderer said.
“It's a great group of people. It's an entertaining play, and it would be challenges because people aren't necessarily used to this kind of play. It's sort of like dance. It's not dance, but I've worked on it from that way much of the time.”
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IF YOU GO
WHAT: "Small Mouth Sounds," a play by Bess Wohl directed by Scott Renderer. This performance contains a short nude scene.
WHEN: 8 p.m. July 11, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19 and 20; 3 p.m. July 14.
WHERE: The Recovery Lounge, 12198 Old Rt. 9N, Upper Jay.
ADMISSION: Tickets are $20 at the door. No credit cards accepted.
PHONE: Reservations strongly recommended. 518-946-6074.