Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

The Sound Inside
Williamstown Theatre Festival
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's review of The Cake and Zander's review of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street


Will Hochman and Mary-Louise Parker
Photo by Carolyn Brown
After a necessarily deliberate component, Adam Rapp's play The Sound Inside, now in a world premiere production on the Nikos Stage at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, is scorching. It is unique theater, vastly successful and continuing through July 8th. The running time is about 90 minutes but the production would be even more cerebrally explosive and that much tighter if the script could be trimmed just a bit. It is quite high-impact drama benefitting from exceptional acting which complements Rapp's words. David Cromer (who recently won a Tony Award for The Band's Visit) provides essential direction.

Mary Louise Parker, a perfect fit for this role, plays Bella Baird, a perhaps forty-something year old professor at Yale. She begins the play with a monologue in third person and evaluates herself in terms of physicality and work at the university. She is very much an isolated soul now and beset with a trying personal issue. Bella serves to introduce the other character of the play, Christopher Dunn (Will Hochman), to the audience. A freshman at Yale, Chris is in a class taught by Bella and laps up her insight regarding writings by people such as Fyodor Dostoyevsky, James Salter, Willa Cather, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and others.

In one sense, The Sound Inside is an intellectual and literary work. Chris's stated goal is to have his teacher read and comment upon 100 pages of fiction, a novella, he has written. Early on, it is established that the young man prefers both penmanship and typewriters rather than emails.

The Sound Inside is a play of voices (first person, third person) and it delves deeply into the world of people who are depressed. That is initially more evident in Bella's case but Chris, too, copes with inner struggle. The result is complex, stimulating theater which yields surprising developmental plot turns, none of which are optimistic. Rapp moves his dialogue in unanticipated directions. Alexander Woodward's settings are simple, effective and appropriate. Bella and Chris meet at her office, classroom and home.

Parker's delivery, at the outset, is near monotone. She becomes louder and her pitch rises and falls, and rises later on. After 15 or 20 minutes, those watching (if they believe her self-description) understand who she is. Chris, looking appropriately youthful, is far more animated. Something is learned of his past through character give-and-take. Both roles require the performers to mentally multitask and Mary Louise Parker must do so often. An Emmy, Golden Globe and Tony Award recipient, she is enviably disciplined on stage. Parker fixes her stamp upon Bella Baird with her first utterance and holds fast. Will Hochman was in the Manhattan Theatre Club production of The Little Foxes a few seasons ago and has done some Off-Broadway and film work. Highly skilled, he presents a driven and agitated Chris.

In terms of plot revelation, suffice to say there is a barter-type situation which pushes the story toward its finale.

The Sound Inside very much focuses on human beings' minds. It is difficult to fully appreciate all at one sitting. There's an impulse to either wish to return or find the script to further explore. Nothing about the production is easy. Theatergoers walk away with questions, one of which centers on the whereabouts of Chris's novella.

Director Cromer works with serious, incisive actors and a script which is ultimately piercing and probing. It is a new work and requires both interpretation and then actualization. While the performance is never slow, some sections are brisker than others. Sensitive material, this production delivers with balance, expression and comprehension.

The Sound Inside, through July 8, 2018, on the Nikos Stage as part of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown MA. For tickets, call 413-458-3253 or visit wtfestival.org.


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