A silent play speaks volumes


Chris Ferman

Senior Titus Jilderda, left, and First Year Soryn Richter, right, rehearse a scene for the Small Mouth Sounds production at the Brunner Theater.

K Vo

The silent drama, “Small Mouth Sounds” will appear on the mainstage March 16-19. Written by Bess Wohl, the play features six troubled people coming to the realization that silence does not always reflect tranquility. 

In “Small Mouth Sounds,” the characters seek quiet reflection and reconnection with themselves at a forest retreat. There is little spoken conversation throughout the play. Instead, the actors rely on body language and subtle vocalizations to portray their characters’ inner thoughts and feelings. Sighs, whispers, grunts and other nonverbal vocalizations are all examples of the “small mouth sounds” utilized in the play.

According to First-Year Soryn Richter, this play speaks to the power of silence.

The themes are quite interesting,” Richter said. “It shows how a sense of community can occur while silent, even through total miscommunication. It shows a good way to deal with stressful situations, especially when you can’t just talk through your problems.”

The concept of Small Mouth Sounds raises a number of issues with the way people interact without words and deal with emotions and disagreements. A play built around silence poses a challenge for the actors on stage. This is true for Richter, who is stuck in the mind of a character they relate to.

“Oh, it’s definitely an acting challenge, as well as just a regular challenge. Being alone with your thoughts is never a fun thing,” Richter said. “Ned, my character, is… almost uncomfortably like me. He’s awkward and rambles on when speaking, afraid to talk to people or do something wrong. It’s a little hard separating him from me sometimes.” 

Sophomores Emma Watts, left, and Alice Sylvie, right, rehearse a scene for the Small Mouth Sounds production at the Brunner Theater. (Chris Ferman)

Junior Grey White, stage manager for this production, is in charge of technical aspects that help bring the story to life. According to White, this has been a unique show to stage manage.

“It is a 43 page script and a majority of it is blocking. It creates such a different atmosphere than we are used to in a normal production, yet the actors [and] tech are able to tell a story despite no words,” White said. “This is done by lighting, sound, blocking and so much more and it is incredibly rewarding to watch it all come together at the end.”

For the actors, working without a script involves digging into the psyche of their characters, who are all working through struggles in their lives. This is the case for Junior Rose Klingler, playing the role of Teacher.

“A lot of this show is digging into ourselves because it is about people who have experienced very negative things in their lives and trying to come for healing,” Klingler said. “They’re coming to this retreat for healing.”

The play has received praise for its innovative approach to storytelling, as well as for the ways in which it investigates topics such as mindfulness, human connection and the quest for meaning. Traditional assumptions of what defines a play and how stories might be conveyed are called into question, making for an experience that is thought-provoking not only for the artists but also for the audience.

“As someone who is not acting, I would say the silence almost speaks volumes to what the actors cannot,” White said. “There are some scenes where I believe that adding words to the play would take away from so much.”

Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. March 16-18 and 1:30 p.m. March 19. Tickets are free to Augustana students with an ID. General admission tickets are $15, $12 for senior citizens and $10 for faculty, staff and non-Augustana students.