By George Basler

Small Mouth Sounds is a play that honestly earns its label as a unique piece of work. How unique? The play barely has any dialogue. Instead, the actors use body language to tell the story and reveal their characters’ personalities, quirks and emotional struggles.

The play “feels very improvisational,” said Jeff Tagliaferro, who is directing the production that opens Friday (June 9) for a three-weekend run at the KNOW Theatre in downtown Binghamton. “It’s challenging for actors, but a fun challenge.”

The play, by American playwright, screenwriter and actress Bess Wohl, earned sterling reviews when it opened in New York City in 2015. A New York Times critic described it “as funny as it is quietly moving … a model of ingenuity.” It won the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award for new American plays.

Small Mouth Sounds focuses on six people who have signed up for a week-long retreat in a cabin in the woods. As part of the retreat, they are required to take a vow of silence during which they are instructed to look within themselves and confront their problems and insecurities. The only voice the audience hears comes from an unseen “guru,” who provides daily lectures and instructions.

Tagliaferro signed on to direct the production after being shown Wohl’s play by Tim Gleason, KNOW’s artistic director, and finding it “brilliant.”

The play is far from “a mime show,” he emphasized. Instead, the actors use techniques, such as gestures and changes in posture, to gradually reveal the emotional challenges that their characters are facing. They also work to make connections with their fellow retreat-goers without talking.

“The six characters all have different, very relatable circumstances that led them to this retreat. The pain they are going through will be accessible to audiences without words,” Tagliaferro said. The play also has its share of laughter as the characters stumble through miscommunication with each other (they can’t talk, after all). This miscommunication “provides a lot of opportunities for humor,” Tagliaferro said.

The KNOW cast features seven actors who have appeared in numerous productions across the region: Jane Elliot, Rene Neville, Anna Simek, Joe Hoffman, Gil Choi, Chris Nickerson and Addison Turner.

Small Mouth Sounds is a “a gift” for actors, said Simek, who last appeared at KNOW in How I Learned to Drive last season. While bringing characters to life without dialogue is challenging, it allows actors to make choices in playing their roles, and there’s freedom in that, she said.

The rehearsal process has been atypical because of the format of Wohl’s play, Tagliaferro said. Before tackling the script, the cast spent several rehearsals doing movement exercises and “silly games” to get comfortable with each other and Wohl’s unique way of telling a story.

Neville, who has a dance background, said Small Mouth Sounds gives her the opportunity to “find expression in body movement in another interesting way.” Her biggest challenge has been “finding the character’s truth and being courageous enough to know I have that truth,” she added.

Simek said her main challenge is “trusting myself as an actress” and resisting any temptation to overact her role.

Without much dialogue, Small Mouth Sounds sometimes requires audience members to figure out what’s happening in real time, Simek added. But there is a clear story arc for each character, Tagliaferro emphasized. By the end of the play, the characters reach a sense of closure or acceptance.

Small Mouth Sounds is a “life-affirming” play that, like life, consists of pain and joy in equal parts, Simek said.

“I love challenging work,” Tagliaferro noted, stressing receptive audiences will have “a thought-provoking experience.

IF YOU GO: Small Mouth Sounds will run weekends June 9-25 at KNOW Theatre, 74 Carroll St., Binghamton. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m.; Sundays are at 3 p.m. Tickets at $25 ($20 for seniors, $15 for students) are available at There is a pay-what-you-can night at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 15. A post-show reception is planned for opening night.