For a word to be spoken there must be silence, before and after.
—Ursula K. LeGuin
Our mission at Thalia’s Umbrella is “to produce plays that dance on the line between comedy and tragedy, taking the light of life seriously and the serious lightly; to create a space where, in Robert Frost’s words, ‘the work is play for mortal stakes.’”
Until now, the (unwritten) second sentence was something like “And the plays use language in an interesting way that Terry and Daniel really like.”
The first thing that Daniel and I discovered about each other when we first worked together (Breaking the Code at the late, lamented Alice B. Theater, way back in The Time Before Cellphones) is that we both have a passion for the power of language. All of Thalia’s productions to date, from A Day in the Death of Joe Egg through Y York’s wonderful The Impossibility of Now, have used words in very specific, very theatrical, lovely ways.
So why, O why are we doing a play with vast stretches of wordlessness?
Because silence is part of language too, of course. Silence is—potentially—a very powerful event onstage. But it is a strangely under-used one. Daniel wrote an eloquent essay on this subject for our newsletter a few years ago (reposted below). Shortly after we sent his essay out, I read a review of a new play that seemed to speak directly (so to speak) to his point. Several other readers of both Daniel’s essay and the New York Times also brought this review to our attention. Therefore, when I went to New York a few months later, I bought a ticket to see Small Mouth Sounds.
I was completely charmed. This is not a mime show, but a play about how we behave when language is not an option. Language is many things, of course, but one of them is a mask: we are most of us highly skilled in using words to hide behind, to present to the world a carefully rehearsed persona. What I saw—clearly, beautifully, hilariously—in this play is what happens when the mask of language is stripped away: we see these broken, lovely people for who they really are.