The Launching of a New Theatrical Genre: ‘Small Mouth Sounds’ at The 5 & Dime is Soul-Searching and Intimate

Photos by Maya Adkins


Small Mouth Sounds, The 5 & Dime Theatre Company, Photo by Maya Adkins
Photos by Maya Adkins

The 5 & Dime, Jacksonville’s Downtown theatre company, opened Small Mouth Sounds on April 19th, which remains on stage through May 5th, 2019. The theatre is located at 112 East Adams Street; additional information is available on the company’s Facebook page. For reservations, call (904) 637-5100 or visit

The theatre, founded in 2011, has staged many exceptional shows. Small Mouth Sounds is one of the most unusual in content and staging.

Small Mouth Sounds, The 5 & Dime Theatre Company, Photo by Maya Adkins

The play was written by Bess Whol, a graduate of Harvard and the Yale School of Drama. Check out her internet site: she has written a number of stage and screen plays, currently has a film playing on Netflix, and has a play opening on Broadway in the near future. Small Mouths was inspired by her participation in a silent spiritual retreat in upstate New York.

The set is spartan. Six folding metal chairs are placed against a background of paneling which conceals sleeping quarters. Five adults of varied ages dressed in casual clothing arrive, remove their shoes, take a seat, and look directly over the audience (us) into a black space at the back of the theater. They are greeted by the androgynous microphoned voice of a disembodied Teacher (Lyra Hall), who provides directions, explains the rules, and discusses expectations. After the Teacher finishes the introduction and is ready to begin, a harried sixth participant arrives and disruptively seats herself.

Small Mouth Sounds, The 5 & Dime Theatre Company, Photo by Maya Adkins

The retreat is a silent retreat. No talking. No breaks for small talk. No talking by the participants. No talking for five days. The participants comply for the most part; you won’t be hearing much dialogue.

This provides challenges for all involved: Why would these spiritual seekers voluntarily choose this workshop? How can the actors tell their stories without dialogue? And how can the audience understand stories conveyed in silence? The actors can – it requires acting – which includes gestures, facial expressions, postures, pantomime, etc. – and remarkedly, we can also – it requires paying attentiveness.  

Small Mouth Sounds, The 5 & Dime Theatre Company, Photo by Maya Adkins
Mike Roberts

Character is everything here. The playwright has provided lengthy backstories for each of the seekers, which (although available on the theatre’s Facebook page) isn’t shared with the audience. Even so, Wahl does expect that the audience will be able to follow the main story lines.  

Joan (Cynthia Riegler) and Judy (Zonetta Thomas) arrive together, engaged in a heated dispute about who is responsible for the wrong turn taken during the drive. They are lovers who met at a Buddhist lecture series. Joan is a therapist and sex educator in schools and has a private practice; she also has an angry temperament. Judy works as an illustrator for a woman’s popular magazine, makes a good living, and has recently been diagnosed with malignant cancer. Both dress like models from the pages of Harper’s Bazaar.   

Small Mouth Sounds, The 5 & Dime Theatre Company, Photo by Maya Adkins
Cynthia Riegler an Zonnetta Thomas

Riegler is making her debut at the 5 & Dime; she last appeared on stage in Chalk at the Florida Theatre. Thomas has previously appeared at the 5 & Dime in singing roles.  

Jan (Mike Roberts) is fifty-ish, from a small town in Finland where he is a Lutheran pastor; he is on sabbatical. He carries a backpack with him (he believes in preparedness) and is reserved in his interactions with others. Roberts, who had stage roles during his childhood, has recently appeared in a number of Amelia Community Theatre productions.

Small Mouth Sounds, The 5 & Dime Theatre Company, Photo by Maya Adkins
Chris Watson

Ned (Chris Watson) is the only character to share his story when the Teacher invites questions. He is in his forties, and has suffered multiple recent traumas, both emotional and physical. He is also the funniest of the participants. Watson is well-known on our local stages for his comic endeavors. He appeared in Noises Off at Players by the Sea and won a Best Actor Award for his performance in Theatre Jacksonville’s Boeing Boeing.

Small Mouth Sounds, The 5 & Dime Theatre Company, Photo by Maya Adkins
Chris Watson and Richie Rosado

Rodney (Richie Rosado) is a gorgeous mid-thirties yoga teacher who is married but doesn’t act like it. He’s interested in women and sex, smiles a lot, and is uninhibited, as he demonstrates when he strips for a swim. Rosado recently graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s in musical theatre. Earlier, he attended FSCJ, where we saw him in Mildred Wild and Jacques Brel, and he was recently in the cast of Bridges of Madison County at Players by the Sea.

Then we have Alicia (Katie Johnson), the attention-seeker, whose life is in shreds after her boyfriend Fred sent her away. She desperately wants to resume their relationship, and frequently tries to reach him with phone calls.

Small Mouth Sounds, The 5 & Dime Theatre Company, Photo by Maya Adkins

Director Daniel Austin is an award-winning actor, who enjoys directing, and has appeared in both roles in numerous productions throughout Jacksonville. He recently joined the staff of Bolles School of the Arts as a drama teacher.

Small Mouth Sounds, The 5 & Dime Theatre Company, Photo by Maya Adkins
Zonnetta Thomas

We found this an engaging play, filled with soul-searching, along with angst, tenderness, and humor, portrayed by an excellent cast. The action moved along briskly and invited audience members to do some soul-searching of their own. And it may be the launching of a new theatrical genre: our internet search for “stage plays without spoken dialogue” was unsuccessful.

Additional Production Team members included Abby Gomez (Stage Manager), Katie Cress (Assistant Stage Manager), Bradley Akers& Katie Cress (Sound Design), Austin Kelm (Lighting Design), and Tom Fallon (Set Design).

Next up for the 5 & Dime: May 17 – 19, An Evening of Kander & Ebb.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.