The love of words, good books, writing something meaningful – only certain people’s brains are wired to work this way, and it comes with a built-in need for solitude. But this solitude, despite being necessary, can have its drawbacks. In Adam Rapp’s transcendent, haunting play “The Sound Inside,” masterfully directed by Tony-award winner David Cromer, we meet two of these people, desperate in their need for connection.
Bella Baird (Mary-Louise Parker) is a creative writing teacher at Yale; she’s written three books and is mostly forgotten, literary-wise, as she hasn’t published anything in almost 20 years and lives a very quiet life. Christopher (Will Hochman), one of her students, barges into office hours unannounced, telling her about a book he’s writing; it’s fascinating enough that they continue meeting, their mutual love of literature and writing bridging their age gap. When Bella gets bad news, she realizes she’s going to need Christopher’s help with something she can’t ask anyone else to do for her; his decision will change both of their lives.
Rapp’s play is beautifully written; it reads like a novel, thick with metaphor, gorgeous turns of phrase and perfect description – nothing else would do for a script about two people who value words so highly and use them like precious currency. This is nothing less than a love letter to literature and those who live within the pages of good books; absorb the words, rather than just read them.
Alexander Woodward’s set is stark; at first, you think Bella is acting on a bare stage, but as the play progresses, out of the shadows a black box emerges; with one rotation and Heather Gilbert’s creative lighting design, it’s her office, and with another rotation and a change in lighting, it’s Bella’s apartment. The black box rolls out of the way handily, giving the actors the entire stage when needed. It’s a wonderful and intelligent use of space, light and shadow.
Parker gives the role her all; I can’t imagine that she’s not emotionally wrung out after each performance. This is a fully formed woman with true emotion behind every word, every line, every choice of movement. You are invested in her journey and not only her relationship with Christopher but her relationship with the world itself; you want her to succeed. She strikes such a chord – she is all of us, and in her success, perhaps we will see one of our own. Hochman has such a sharp character arc as Christopher; he, too, has created a three-dimensional character, a more self-aware Holden Caulfield, perhaps; too intelligent for his years, too self-aware for his peers, alone but longing for a meaningful connection despite feeling it’s not possible for him.
What a strong choice for the theater, and what a brilliant piece of writing by Rapp. The entire audience was under this production’s spell, willing to let it take us wherever it was going, and what a testament to the team involved here to have a whole theater in the palm of your hand.
“The Sound Inside”; Williamstown Theatre Festival, 1000 Main St., Williamstown, MA; through July 8; $60; Run time: 85 minutes; 413-458-3253; http://wtfestival.org/