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Performing Arts

Suit up, players. It’s showtime

The cast of Merely Players’ production of “Small Mouth Sounds”: From left, Tara Demmy as Alicia, Geoff Johnson as Ned, Conor Sheehan as Rodney, Stephen Bowers as Jan, Cindy Laudadio-Hill as Judy and Joy Kilpatrick as Joan. (Courtesy of Kara Cavalca)
FLC and Merely Players take on today’s conundrums

Two telling contemporary plays happen to be running in Durango in February. One’s a comedy, spilling into satire; the other is a finely observed realistic drama simmering with humor and edginess. Grounded in the pesky dynamics of group experience, both illuminate current but different social conundrums – teenagers coming of age or adults who have lost their way.

‘Small Mouth Sounds’

Merely Players’ production of Bess Wohl’s “Small Mouth Sounds” opened last weekend. Wohl’s wry satire about adults is timely. At a silent retreat, six strangers search for their authentic inner selves. They gather for daytime classroom sessions under the guidance of The Teacher (a perfectly saccharine and patronizing Maureen May). Unseen, she directs her bewildered seekers over a sound system, repeatedly reminding her charges of the silence imperative.

With the exception of The Teacher’s spoken directives, a few errant words punctuate the silence here and there. A few significant monologues fill in back stories. But the play is fundamentally dialogue-free. That’s the conceit Director Zachary Chiero and his actors make the most of. The result is a master class in pantomime. The actors individualize their characters through attitude, stance, gesture and movement. The characters emerge as both quirky and endearing individuals.

With simple sound and light cues, night follows day as humorous habits and individual rituals unfold. The tiered set delineates the retreat’s overnight lodgings from the classroom and the surrounding woods – with an implied lake for a surprisingly funny, offstage swim.

Eventually, the retreat comes to an end with a closing ritual. It involves the still-life objects of the self-help movement: handwritten thoughts on small pieces of paper, matches, candles and sand. The playwright doesn’t miss a thing as her human comedy comes to an end. Wohl’s sendup of contemporary soul-quests borders on satire and the company marvelously holds up a comic mirror to ourselves in 2024.

If you go

WHAT: “Small Mouth Sounds,” a comedy by Bess Wohl, Merely Players, directed by Zachary Chiero.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Merely Underground, 789 Tech Center Drive.

TICKETS: $26-$30. All performances sold out, sign up for waiting list.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.merelyplayers.org.

* * *

WHAT: “The Wolves,” a one-act drama by Sarah DeLappe, directed by Felicia Lansbury Meyer. Fort Lewis College Department of Performing Arts.\

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23, 24, 29, March 2, and 2 p.m. Feb. 25.

WHERE: Gallery Theatre, FLC Drama Building, 1000 Rim Drive.

TICKETS: $5 to $20, free FLC students. Available at www.durangoconcerts.com.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.fortlewis.edu/theatre.

‘The Wolves’

“The Wolves,” by Sarah DeLappe, opens Feb. 23 in Fort Lewis College’s Gallery Theatre and runs through March 2. Directed by Felicia Lansbury Meyer, it’s a one-act explication of teenage American girls who are members of a high school soccer team. Keenly observed and sharp as a hot mic left on in a locker room, the play has garnered solid reviews in New York and London.

The cast of the Fort Lewis College production of “The Wolves” includes from left front row: Kai Gray, Lilia Reynolds, Maya Mouret and Savannah Rodriguez. Back row from left: Emily Carter, Zoe Corbine-Daniels, Jodi James, Caroline Smith and Sheyanne Strain. (Courtesy of Fort Lewis College)

When “The Wolves” opened off-Broadway in 2016, New York Times critic Ben Brantley singled it out for its “exhilarating brightness of raw adolescence.” He noted the brisk dialogue: “… for long stretches, it feels as if they’re all talking at once. This production uses overlapping dialogue to create a heady buzz of personalities in collision. The girls talk about any number of topics as they stretch and go through drills. This motley of topics swirls and eddies and reforms, with exchanges of goofy insults and gossipy asides.”

In 2018, critic Arifa Akbar wrote in The Guardian about the London production: “The primary focus is not sport but the nature of the group itself and the way the girls speak to each other. They talk at once, in multiple conversations. They laugh, bitch, gossip and fight.”

So how has this new play about American adolescence traversed from New York and London to FLC? In a recent interview, Meyer said she knew about the play, and a year ago suggested it to the FLC Drama Committee.

“It was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and it’s a good fit for our students,” she said. “There are nine girls, plus a soccer mom in the cast. Each of the girls has different concerns. Information about the players unfolds during the play. They are known only by their numbers, and sometimes they all speak at once, and it’s like a song.”

The musical metaphor has been picked up by a number of critics, and Lincoln Center Theatre has published a Teacher-Resource Guide, which is available as a PDF online. It opens with a quote from DeLappe: “I wanted to see a portrait of teenage girls as human beings – as complicated, nuanced, very idiosyncratic people who weren’t just girlfriends or sex objects or manic pixie dream girls, but who were athletes and daughters and students and scholars who were trying actively to figure out who they were in this changing world around them.”

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.