The island of Monhegan was the setting of the movie “The Sounding” which became available on cable and streaming services in October. Photo by Asya Danilova and Mariya Bulat

When Catherine Eaton was preparing for her role in “The Sounding” – portraying a woman who rarely speaks except when reciting Shakespeare – she wanted to go someplace she could live a mostly-speechless life herself, to see what it’s like.

She decided the best place was probably a remote Maine island, where she could be left alone and distractions would be few.

“I spent four weeks there, living in a tent. I don’t remember a single person who lived on the island asking me why I didn’t speak,” said Eaton, who declined to name the island, to protect people’s privacy. “I sat with them at tables and ate, and they just allowed me to be there.”

Eaton, who also directed the movie, wanted the film to be shot someplace that captured the emotion of the story, which deals with isolation, mental illness and following one’s own path. Eaton had spent many summers at her grandparents’ home on Mount Desert Island and was fairly familiar with the Maine coast. She ended up shooting much of the film on Monhegan, 12 miles off the Maine coast, in 2016. It became available for viewing in late October on cable systems and streaming services, including Spectrum, Comcast, Prime and AppleTV.

Catherine Eaton, star of “The Sounding” had spent summers in Maine for years before filming on Monhegan. Photo by Asya Danilova and Mariya Bulat

Eaton’s character, Liv, was raised by her grandfather on a remote Maine island in the movie. He read Shakespeare and other classic literature to her constantly, and as an adult, she rarely speaks except when using lines from those works. The island community accepts Liv, and she lives peacefully there for some time. At one point, an outsider, invited by her grandfather, asks Liv why she is so silent.

“I am that I am. Be that thou know’st thou art, and then thou art as great as that thou fear’st,” she replies, quoting from “Twelfth Night.” Later, after she goes missing for a few days, somebody asks Liv where she’s been and why she doesn’t speak.

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“Why should calamity be full of words?” she answers, quoting from “Richard III.”

Interiors for the film were shot at a monastery on Long Island, New York, but the breathtaking shots of Monhegan’s quiet beaches, crashing surf and dirt roads play a significant role in setting a mood of isolation and separateness for the world which Liv inhabits.

Some of the island features captured in the film include the cliffs at Little Whitehead and Squeaker Cove, the sand and surf at Swim Beach and Fish Beach, as well as the quiet Main Street, Lobster Cove Road, the town dock and some boats owned by local fishermen.

Catherine Eaton behind the scenes during the filming of “The Sounding.” Photo by Asya Danilova and Mariya Bulat

“It’s not very easy to film on Monhegan, being so far offshore, but the local people were incredible and the island really has a magical feel,” said Eaton, speaking from her home in Vermont.

The film has gotten critical praise from reviewers. Brian Tallerico, writing on RogerEbert.com, called Eaton “an undeniable talent to watch.” Jared Mobarek called the movie “a powerful metaphor for our world’s prevalence to marginalize” on TheFilmStage.com.

The film is Eaton’s directorial debut. She has acted on Broadway, TV and film and has appeared in episodes of the ABC soap opera “All My Children.” The cast of “The Sounding” includes several veteran film and TV actors. Teddy Sears, who plays the young doctor perplexed by Liv’s unique situation, has been in the NBC series “Chicago Fire” and the recent Netflix series “The Politician.” Harris Yulin, who plays the grandfather who raises Liv, has a 50-year TV and film resume that includes the Fox TV series “24” and the recent Netflix series “Ozark.” Frankie Faison, who plays an islander who tries to protect Liv’s right to speak only in Shakespeare, has been in films and TV for more than 40 years, including on the HBO series “The Wire” from 2002 to 2008.

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ALLURE OF THE MAINE COAST

“The Sounding” is one of eight or nine independent feature films to use a Maine island or coastal location as a primary setting in the past decade or so, including “The Congressman” (2016), which was shot partially on Monhegan, the thriller “Blow the Man Down” (2019), shot on Bailey and Orr’s islands and in other parts of Harpswell, and the horror movie “Island Zero”(2017), shot partially on Islesboro.

For many filmmakers, the locations are as important to the authentic look and feel of the film as characters are, said Karen Carberry Warhola, director of the Maine Film Office. Maine has a coastline, and string of picturesque islands, that would be hard to duplicate anywhere else.

“Authenticity is extremely important for drawing the audience into the story and connecting them emotionally to the characters, ” said Warhola. “The landscape of Maine’s islands and coastal settings create rugged, realistic and powerful images that resemble the iconic storybook pictures of coastal life and quaint fishing villages that are familiar to audiences and help them make an emotional leap into the story on the screen.”

Warhola said she once got a call from a filmmaker who was scouting locations in Maine and said he felt like “he was in paradise.” She said filmmakers who come to Maine, and their audiences, often end up visiting the state as tourists.

The crew of “The Sounding” filming on Monhegan. Photo by Asya Danilova and Mariya Bulat

Eaton already knew about the wonders of coastal Maine long before she wrote the play that would become “The Sounding.” She grew up in Massachusetts and Vermont but spent summers at her grandparents’ house in Hulls Cove, near Bar Harbor. She also worked for a while at Acadia National Park – as a tea server at the Jordan Pond House – and acted with a Bar Harbor theater company for two seasons. She got a bachelor’s degree in international law at Cornell before getting a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Minnesota. She’s been acting in theater and on TV and in film since the late 1990s.

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She got the idea for a character who speaks only using the lines of Shakespeare or classic literature more than a decade ago, while staying with her mother, who was dealing with an illness, in Vermont. Eaton was working on a farm during the day and at night felt herself “craving language.” She missed acting in theater and turned to her love of classic literature. She began pulling out quotes and monologues from various plays, including works by Shakespeare, and hanging them on the walls of her room.

Teddy Sears in a scene from “The Sounding.” Photo by Asya Danilova and Mariya Bulat

Seeing all the classic quotations filling her wall made her wonder about what might happen if someone – for a variety of reasons – chose only to speak with these lines. So she began writing a play about a woman who did just that. The play debuted in 2012 and was performed at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center and in Europe. Later, Eaton performed it in a glassed-in space at 47th and Lexington in Manhattan, where passersby stopped to watch her perform. One of the passersby, who came regularly, ended up being a major financial backer for the film version of “The Sounding.” She wrote the screenplay for “The Sounding” with Bryan Delaney, a playwright and screenwriter, who is also her partner and a producer of the film.

Once the screenplay was written, Eaton had arranged to film the movie on a small private Maine island, but the deal fell through before filming began. Through mutual friends, she connected with Dylan Metrano, who was living on Monhegan and who runs La Nef Chocolate with his wife. He had put on concerts and other arts events on the island, knew a lot of people in the small community and was able to find Eaton locations and connect her with fishermen and other locals.

Metrano said the filming was aided by the fact that it took place in mid-October, after tourism season, when there are no crowds and locals aren’t as busy with their businesses. Eaton said Monhegan had the perfect feel for the film, and especially the theme of “otherness” illustrated by Liv, who is so different from most people. The place where she developed her personality, her way of living, had to be a place where her difference was respected.

Catherine Eaton and Harris Yulin in a scene from “The Sounding.” Photo by Asya Danilova and Mariya Bulat

Though the main cast was flown in from all over, local people were called on to help in supporting roles. Bahia Yackzan, a longtime ocean swimmer who was living in Blue Hill, was asked to be Eaton’s body double in a swimming scene. In chilly October water, she swam past the island breakwater and back, and is in the water for at least 10 minutes.

“Catherine told the crew to get the scene in one take, so I wouldn’t have to stay in the water too long. And as soon as I was done, they had a golf cart take me back to my room,” said Yackzan.

The film has played at film festivals around the world and won more than a dozen honors, including the grand prize at the Santa Fe and Arizona International film festivals and best film/audience choice at the Maine International Film Festival in Waterville in 2017. The film was supposed to be released in theaters this year, but that release was canceled because of COVID-19, Eaton said.

Eaton said she hopes the film raises questions about why we are afraid of “otherness” or difference and encourages empathy and courage of conviction. She feels like Maine and its people are important to the film’s ability to raise those issues.

“I think people in a place like Monhegan respect each other’s privacy out of necessity,” said Eaton. “My experience spending time on Maine islands is that people are prepared to accept that otherness.”


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