The Sound Inside
Williamsburg Theatre Festival and Lincoln Center Theater
Studio 54, New York
In a city where you can get the impression that everything is big, brash and loud, especially on the Broadway stage, Adam Rapp has written a thoughtful, reflective piece for two actors that demonstrates innate power through its characterisation.
One of New York’s most popular stage directors, David Cromer works very subtly to get under the skins of not only Yale University literature professor Bella and her student Christopher but also members of the audience. Most of the stage space is kept in darkness throughout the 90-minute running time, with only the actors illuminated. However, location is still depicted clearly through compressed settings, created by scenic designer Alexander Woodward, that are intended to convey the limitations of two extremely lonely lives.
Mary Louise Parker gives a wonderfully understated performance as Bella, whose literary output has been minimal, although she has spent 10 years with tenure. She has also recently received what sounds like a death sentence from her oncologist. Bella is the kind of woman who will just soldier on and, helpfully, she is eloquent and able to narrate in satisfying detail the story of her meeting with Christopher Dunn played by Will Hochman and its consequences.
He is a pushy, unworldly young student who happily breaks a few rules to protect his Luddite credentials, as a result managing to requisition more what are effectively personal tutorials about the novella that he has in process. This follows the activities of a student called Christopher, which suggest that there could well be autobiographical elements, and a young man whom he encounters on a train into New York City.
The meetings between the professor and student largely centre on the reactions—of two almost friendless people who find enough in common to develop at least a conversational relationship and growing alliance, which might even be leading to affection. The story is deliberately one-sided, being presented by and showing the views of Bella, Christopher’s thoughts and opinions only emerging via his side of discussions and the extracts from his novella.
There is considerably more to the plot than is given away in this review, ensuring that readers will be on the edges of their seats before the end of the evening.
This may not immediately sound like exciting Broadway fare but Adam Rapp and David Cromer have together created a piece with the depth and characterisation of a fine novel and enough drama to satisfy more sophisticated theatregoers. There is also the pleasure of watching Mary Louise Parker completely inhabiting a character whom she makes totally convincing, while receiving strong support in a lesser role from Broadway debutant Will Hochman.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher