“Speech is silver and silence is golden,” or so the proverb goes. It is very limited in expressing the many meanings of silence, for silence is not always “golden.” Silence can be a way of hiding deep fear or trauma. It can be a gateway to a calmness of spirit in a meditative state. It can be a profound loss of understanding or direction. There are many things that silence can be, and it all depends upon context and intent.
9 Kinds of Silence, written and directed by Abhishek Majumdar, explores the meanings of silence within the context of political and military conflict as expressed in nationalism. It is also an exploration into the meaning of silence within the interpersonal connections between people, and in the case of this play, a mother and a son.
Silence is engaging and confusing on different levels and in surprising ways. Majumdar constructs the interaction between the protagonists to expose adroitly these contrasting reactions. It is primarily a monologue punctuated by disparate sounds and the silence of one of the players whose non-verbal actions communicate feelings and ideas from within a profound cone of silence until near the end of the play.
This play demands attention to the smallest details and a thoughtful encounter with what truth is being hidden and revealed in both the spoken text and the silent actions. It leaves one with a need to make sense of the experience and the feelings that it engenders. It is drama to be experienced and savored. See the show if you like intense, thoughtful, well-acted drama.
9 Kinds of Silence opens in what appears to be a bunker with a dirt floor. A woman sits at a desk typing. Across from her, on the other side of a translucent curtain, a soldier rigidly sits in combat uniform wearing dark glasses. The woman is called Mother and is played with a well-articulated blending of rigid authority and motherly sensitivity by Hend Ayoub. She is the focus of the verbal dialogue. She is our guide through the landscape of sound and silence.
The soldier is called Son. He may or may not be her son, but he is every mother’s son in a universal sense. Joe Joseph non-verbally articulates the feelings and reactions of this character with great skill, delivering a strong performance in what, for an actor, is a complex undertaking, emoting without words. It is only near the end of the play that he speaks to clarify who he is and that adds to the confusion surrounding his moment in the reality of the bunker.
The Mother is typing and speaking. The dialogue is intended to guide the soldier into talking about his experience in a conflict that may or may not have ended. We learn that if he answers her questions, the regime she works in will allow him to return to his friends and family. If he does not speak, he will be returned to the chaos and confusion of the battle areas, which are not entirely secure. The Mother’s interactions with him start from a nationalistic formality, defined by several telephone calls from her superiors, and then moves towards the nurturing comments of a mother trying to help her child.
The Son, at first sitting rigidly in formal military style, slowly begins to respond to something he is feeling, hearing, or seeing. It is not clear at first what is happening with him. As Mother continues her monologue, Son begins to change his posture and movements, at first subtly, with a head turn, a shifting of arms and legs, and gestures made in the air, sometimes wildly and sometimes slowly. These non-verbal movements initially seem random and unconnected, but it gradually becomes clear that they are a reaction to his interpretation of the words he is hearing.
As the tension builds, it becomes clear that changes are happening between the Mother and the Son. The changes are happening in the silence between her monologue and his reactions, all leading up to a surprising ending.
While there is no clear pay off for the title in an articulation of the nine kinds of silence, the play is constructed in such a way as to leave one with a thoughtful expression of the complexity of the silences that are a part of everyone’s reality.
Jian Jung’s set and costume design effectively give a feeling of isolation and grayness that one would expect in a wartime bunker. Although the script calls for a tent, the depiction here is of a concrete bunker with a dirt floor, a floor that plays an important part at the end of the play. The lighting design by Emma Deane is also a critical element in the setting. It effectively supports the moments of intensity and calm defined by the characters’ actions. Rounding out the work of these two designers is M. Florian Staab’s music and sound design, which strongly supports the show with music and various sounds associated with the action.
9 Kinds of Silence (through October 8, 2023)
122CC’s Second Floor Theater, 150 First Ave, Manhattan
For tickets, visit https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?show=196897
Running time: one hour and 40 minutes without an intermission