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Arts and Entertainment

Actions speak louder than words in ‘Small Mouth Sounds’

Zachary Chiero

As humans, we often communicate without the use of language. When was the last time you shared a wry look with your friend that no one else saw? Felt your shoulders slump at a disappointment you suffered? Or unintentionally gave away what you were thinking with a facial expression? The old saying goes, “actions speak louder than words,” and Merely Players’ upcoming production of “Small Mouth Sounds” puts that theory to the test in extreme fashion.

“Small Mouth Sounds” is unlike any play you have seen before. The playwright, Bess Wohl, brilliantly sets the stage for our small group of actors. Each character, teetering on the brink of despair, comes to an isolated woodland retreat, desperately seeking the wisdom of The Teacher, hoping to find a clear and quick fix to their emotional ailments. The catch is, as The Teacher says, “we shall be observing … silence.” From that moment, each of these characters is set on a weeklong journey to discover themselves, and possibly each other, without uttering a single word.

Put yourself in that scenario for a moment. We are used to alleviating the awkwardness of meetings with strangers by giving our name, where we come from, our carefully packaged and digestible histories. We have the opportunity to control our own narrative, and the way people perceive us, by the stories we tell about ourselves. We find connection this way. Now remove the comfort and familiarity of conversation. What is left to connect us?

At the beginning of any play, we start with an actor’s body onstage. Even before an actor speaks, you learn a great deal about their character simply by observing their posture, their facial expressions and how others react when they walk into a room. The physical life of the character and the lines the character speaks are two instruments in the same symphony of any performance. And when you turn the volume down on the spoken word, physical language comes forward.

Creating the physical and emotional life of a character is a complex and joyful process, and Merely Players is committed to providing opportunities for our community members to learn and grow as artists. In this spirit, we are offering several classes this month, taught by our own expert Mona Wood-Patterson, and the Washington, D.C.-based theater artist Tara Demmy, a cast member of “Small Mouth Sounds” and physical storyteller extraordinaire.

During this wintry season, we invite you to be a part of the exciting experiences we are offering at this time. The warmth of the Merely community is matched only by the warmth of Merely Underground, which you will soon find transformed into a sunny woodland retreat. Won’t you join us?

January with Merely Players
  • Merely Training, Jan. 20 and 27. Cost: $25-$45.
February with Merely Players
  • “Small Mouth Sounds,” Feb. 9-18. Tickets $26-$35.

For more information or to buy tickets, visit https://merelyplayers.org/.

Zachary Chiero is the artistic associate of Merely Players.