By THE ENTHUSIAST
The Sound Inside is a two-hander featuring Mary-Louise Parker and Will Hochman. Hochman is assured and engaging in his Broadway debut, but Parker is the heart of the play, terrific here in an academic role (both in the sense of playing a professor and of bringing a cerebral script to life) that she invests with depth and grace.
All Right, Fine, Stand That Close To Me
The Sound Inside is a frisson-flecked student/teacher drama, a burgeoning mini-genre that includes Oleanna, The Vertical Hour and (to stretch the definition a bit) The History Boys. Mary-Louise Parker plays Bella, a professor of creative writing at Yale. Hochman’s character, Christopher, is a student at Yale. Playwright Adam Rapp has taught at Yale. The fact that a bulldog is not featured on stage is surely an oversight.
Bringing Sexy Back
Parker’s description of a one-night stand at the midpoint of the play (a perfectly paced 90 minutes) is a master class of writing, performance and direction. That last instructor is David Comer, also the director of Orson’s Shadow, Adding Machine, Our Town, and many others. Now, with The Sound Inside and The Band’s Visit, he takes his place as one of the handful of go-to "name" directors on Broadway.
The Sound Inside (I’m not sure that the title makes a lick of sense, though the play takes a crack at explaining it along the way) is about a creative writing teacher and a creative writing student, so it’s no surprise that we’re treated to a bit of creative writing along the way. One of the things that endears Christopher to Bella is that fact that he’s one of the few people who has actually read her novel, and when Christopher describes her book at some length you say to yourself, yes, that does sound rather good, actually; just the sort of lilting fable that you’d expect from a cloistered-but-caring academic. Later in the play we’re presented with Christopher’s novel, and alas no amount of Bella telling him how good she thinks it is obscures the fact that it’s just the sort of self-impressed, semi-autobiographical dross churned out by first-year creative writing students everywhere – your reviewer very much included, back in the day.
Glimpsing the Octopus The Sound Inside grapples with the very weightiest of issues – incurable disease and approaching death very much among them – and does so with an admirably deft lightness of touch. The most affecting scene occurs late in the play when Bella glimpses (in her mind’s eye) an octopus she saw in an aquarium as a child. It’s a lovely piece of writing and a restrained, elegiac performance – so lovely, restrained and elegiac, indeed, that it might well have served as a powerful and startling ending in and of itself.
The Enthusiast (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the pen name of critic Michael Collins. He reports back only on what’s good, never what’s bad. But what he declines to praise can speak volumes.