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Director M. Bevin O’Gara (Clybourne Park, Tribes, The Bridges of Madison County, and more) is no stranger to SpeakEasy Stage, but this is her first show back with us since being named Artistic Director of the Kitchen Theatre Company in Ithaca. We caught up with Bevin between rehearsals to talk to her about the all-star cast of Small Mouth Sounds, the possibilities of silence, and why Boston holds a special place in her heart.
What attracted you to this play?
Director M. Bevin O’Gara (MBO): One of the reasons I signed on to direct Small Mouth Sounds was the opportunity to explore how and how much we are able to communicate without words. This play asks big questions and does so with almost no words. I love that. I am also always attracted to a character-driven piece – and this play is all about its characters.
What, in your words, is SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS all about?
MBO: Among the many themes this play explores, I think, are the possibility and impossibility of silence; the “cost” of our search for self-awareness; and the paradox that, while none of us are truly alone, all of us are completely alone.
Some reviewers have labeled SMALL MOUTHS SOUNDS an “experimental” play. Do you agree? Why or why not?
MBO: We are very conditioned to associate language with theatre, so I think that the minimal use of dialogue in this play is what has led some critics to label it “experimental.” Yet, I disagree with that characterization as Small Mouth Sounds, like many good plays, tells a very human story about relationships and isolation. That it does so in a unique and compelling way only makes it more exciting.
Talk a little bit about the role of silence in this play.
MBO: Silence is everything in this play. It’s the thing that both propels the action and also keeps it from moving forward. Silence in Small Mouth Sounds also allows for moments of exquisite pain and moments of hope, brief seconds that will take your breath away, make you laugh tremendously hard, and experience everything in between. The silence in this play also offers the audience a shared communal experience while, at the same time, pushing them further into isolation.
What unique challenges does this play give to a director?
MBO: First off, there’s very little dialogue in this play, so we have to rely much more than usual on stage directions to help us understand and tell this story. And as a director that regularly reminds her actors to listen to each other, I had to work with the cast to develop a new way of “listening” and being present for each other. This play asks everyone involved to be open in a different way than they normally are in rehearsal, and I think that requirement makes for a much more exciting and invigorating process.
You have assembled an amazing cast for this production: Barlow Adamson, Marianna Basshan, Kerry A. Dowling, Nael Nacer, Celeste Oliva, Sam Simahk and Gigi Watson. Say a little bit about your philosophy about and process for casting.
MBO: Casting is key, and the cast we have assembled for Small Mouth Sounds is full of some of the smartest and most extraordinary actors I know. I really enjoy working with actors who are curious, and who are bold and brave in their exploration of the script.. This show is also such an ensemble piece that you need to create a sense of family around it, something I always try to do with my casts. .
What would you say to someone about why they should see the show?
MBO: This is a play that invites the audience to listen in a way they never have before. And it invites everyone to be aware of other people in our daily life in a completely new way. To me, at this particular moment in time, the message and lessons of Small Mouth Sounds feel utterly necessary. I think we can all listen better and be more aware and considerate of each other.
SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS marks your second Boston production since leaving the Huntington to become the Artistic Director of Kitchen Theatre in Ithaca, NY. How are things going at Kitchen this season?
MBO: We’ve had a fantastic start to my second season at Kitchen. We’ve had three incredible productions, each one better than the last. And the audience there is so deeply engaged in the work that we’re doing; it’s really wonderful to learn how another community thinks and responds to theatre. As a child, I wanted to be an archaeologist excavating other civilizations; and in some ways, I get to do that with this job. I get to unearth the treasures of a new place.
What did you learn in that first year as artistic director that you wished you knew on Day One of that job?
MBO: Oh this is a tough one. I think I’d have to say that I am now acutely aware that transition takes time. Change doesn’t happen overnight. I have a near constant refrain in my head these days of “one day at a time.” I like to remind myself every day to be patient and remain open to the possibilities.
Finally, what keeps you coming back to Boston?
MBO: I think Boston has an incredible community of artists. There really is no other community quite like this one. I am always struck by how deeply Boston artists care and energized by how willing they are to work and explore.
Also I think the “feel” of Boston is exactly my speed. Not too fast, not too slow.
I’m also incredibly excited to be here during the holiday season and to get to see all the warm holiday cheer throughout the city.