Mouthpiece is a dramaturgical exploded-view diagram of Cass Hayward's psyche the day after her mother's death. Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken play two halves of Cass's mind - singing, jeering, collapsing and reanimating to seamlessly express the folds and flow of getting through the day.
The show opens with a darkened stage and otherworldly a cappella, impressively synchronized, then meticulously divergent. Sadava and Nostbakken quickly cease to seem like performers onstage and instead become dynamic agents of abstract thought and feeling, folding together and breaking apart. They transition fluidly from grating loudness and dissonant thought into slow moments of tenderness and peace. They skillfully emulate what it's like to be inside a mind: complex without hypocrisy, both integrated and exiled, flowing rapidly from observation to judgment to commercial jingle.
As the events of the day progress (buy the flowers, choose the casket, write the eulogy), so does our understanding of Cass's complexity, of her relationship with her mother, and her identity as a woman. The many characters in the show - friends leaving voicemails, men cat-calling, a well-meaning sales attendant pushing Cass to the brink of breakdown - showcase Sadava and Nostbakken's versatility and power. They shepherd the audience through moments of unsettling tension with grace and unyielding strength, like a firm hand on the small of the back, often releasing us into cathartic laughter without dulling the impression made by their intricate and harrowing commentary.
I was not prepared for the intuitive, almost instinctual wash of familiarity as I watched Mouthpiece. Admittedly, I'm sometimes intimidated by contemporary theatre because I'm afraid I won't "get it", but this show was so profoundly relatable because of it's unique use of sound, physicality, and artful allusions to overwhelmingly intricate themes. Never before have I wanted to stand up from my seat and yell, "Yes! That's exactly it! The feeling of being hot and itchy and hate-filled because you feel wrong in everything you're wearing - that's what it looks like!" My connection to the show was through my mind and my body, thanks to Sadava and Nostbakken's incisive and vulnerable portrayal of what it's like to live inside bodies like theirs, like mine. Occasionally cut into Cass's narrative are staggering, self-aware interjections from the perspectives of the creators, grappling with the implications of their social positions within the scope of identity and privilege. Soon after, we are carried back into Cass's mind as she cradles and batters and negotiates with herself, her processes imbued with new meaning after the creator's meta-commentary.
The last few scenes are manic, violent, and achingly captivating. The crescendo of Cass's unpacking of herself, of her mother, of her reality is as satisfying as it is disturbing, and is, honestly, hard to describe in words. I don't say this only as someone who is writing a review, but also as someone deeply impacted by this show - please, I urge you: if you can, go and see it for yourself.
I am changed for having seen Mouthpiece, as I think anyone would be. I have renewed faith in the arts and their capacity to arm us with insight and empathy in a life and social climate of uncertainty. I feel unsettled, but in a way that disallows me to waste my time and capacities. And lastly, I am very, very thankful to everyone who took part in bringing this show to life. We need you, we need this. Please keep going.
Mouthpiece showed at the Historic Theatre from January 31 to February 5th, 2017.