Director Bevin O’Gara Speaks About Play With No Talking
For a play in which the characters aren’t allowed to speak, Small Mouth Sounds says a lot. The play, by Bess Wohl, follows its characters on a comedic and poignant journey in self-reflection and mutual understanding at a spiritual retreat. Director Bevin O’Gara, a Huntington Theatre alum, is returning to Boston—this time at SpeakEasy Stage—to work on Small Mouth Sounds. DigBoston spoke with her about the play and about coming back to the city for this project.
Could you describe what Small Mouth Sounds is about?
So it’s about six individuals who go to a silent meditation retreat somewhere in the Northeast, and they’re all going through their own struggles, their own difficult times, they’re all there to look for some sort of solace. And so they’re silent. They’re not allowed to use dialogue, or words, to communicate. And it’s all about the miscommunication that happens there, and the connections that are forged, in that and the foibles and happenstance that losing that means of communication allows.
So how did you first learn of Small Mouth Sounds? And what made you want to direct it?
I became aware of this play pretty quickly after it gained popularity in New York. I love finding alternative ways to communicate. I think that communication between individuals is utterly impossible. And I love plays that explore how we are so isolated and yet share so much at the same time. And I love that this play took away the words from sharing in those joys and those pains and still found a way of expressing that. I hadn’t read anything like it before.
Do you think of theater as a way to break down that isolation barrier?
Oh, dear God, I hope that that’s what theater does because, I mean, I’ve based my entire life on that pretense. I think this play explores it in very unexpected ways. I think the goal of theater is to see yourself in the other or to see the things that we all share. But I think the way that this play communicates that and conveys that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Silence is the story. It’s the inciting incident. If these characters had words, none of the play would happen. Silence takes away everything from these characters, but also gives them utter permission to be who they are at this retreat.
Speaking of retreats, some of the actors have experience attending them, has that been helpful in this process?
Oh, totally, they have a real understanding of what these places are. And that knowledge has been very, very useful. I myself have never done that and constantly make fun of it. But I also think that filters into some of the characters.
Obviously it requires a lot of work by the actors to convey all of this through very little dialogue. Do you think it requires more work from the audience as well?
I don’t think it requires more from the audience. I think it requires a different kind of listening. You have to be present the way the retreat itself asks the characters to be present. You don’t have to understand every moment, you just have to experience it.
Previously you worked at the Huntington Theatre Company. What’s it like coming back to Boston?
A little trippy. A little different. Boston and Ithaca are very different cities—they share a lot of the same qualities. The acting community here, the theater community here, it’s unlike anything else I could imagine. And it’s just it’s very warm, very welcoming. It’s so much a family. We were joking about how much we all know about each other. Everyone knows everyone and everyone knows everything about everyone. The one amazing thing about leaving the city and coming back is that you ask your top choices and everyone says yes. We have sort of an embarrassment of riches in terms of design and in terms of acting team. It really is the best of the best, and I hope I support them and do them justice.
SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS. 1.4-2.2 AT SPEAKEASY STAGE COMPANY, 539 TREMONT ST., BOSTON. SPEAKEASYSTAGE.COM