“The Sound Inside” by Adam Rapp (novelist, playwright, screenwriter, musician, and film director) is directed by Everyman Theatre’s founder and artistic director, Vincent M. Lancisi, and features two member of Everyman’s repertory company—Beth Hylton as Bella and Zack Powell as Christopher. The play was originally presented at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2018 and had a short run on Broadway in 2019-20. It was nominated for six Tony Awards, including Best Play. Mary Louise Parker won the Tony for Best Performance by an Actress in a Play. The play also received seven Outer Critics Circle Awards.
…a dramatic roller-coaster of wit, wisdom, poignancy, bravery, and dedication to the craft of writing…Vincent M. Lancisi has directed with sensitivity to both actors and the audience in making the more difficult content palatable.
The plot consists mainly of narration by, and interaction between, the two characters. Bella Lee Baird is a creative writing professor at an Ivy League college in New Haven, CT. She teaches a course called “Reading Fiction For Craft” in which students discuss the “authorship” methods of various writers with a goal toward improving their creative writing skills. Christopher Dunn is a freshman student enrolled in her course. The dialogue between the two characters and frequent breaking of the “fourth wall” in addressing the audience reveal their physical and emotional problems. Bella has published reasonably successful work (a novel and two short stories). Christopher is in the process of writing his first novel and seeks her advice. The teacher-student relationship becomes a complicated friendship.
The story moves along quickly and is fascinating to follow since there are many twists and bends in the plot leading the audience in unexpected directions as more facts are revealed by the characters. For various reasons, the audience may be sympathetic or empathetic to one or both of them in one scene only to reverse its opinion in the next as the characters and story develop. It’s a dramatic roller-coaster of wit, wisdom, poignancy, bravery, and dedication to the craft of writing. Both characters’ use of language to express their emotions is fine-tuned by the playwright. Some of the scenes deal with troubling subjects (see content transparency below), but are expressed in language of grace and intelligence (in the last 30 years Mr. Rapp has written 26 plays, 12 novels, and eight screenplays!)
Ms. Hylton is very effective as she narrates the life of Bella and her interactions with Christopher. She narrates with clear diction and nonchalance as if talking to a friend, i.e. the “unknown audience.” She is candid, frank, and honest about her modest success as a writer, her teaching, and her illness. Her humor in describing her life in various scenes of sadness and gravity is almost that of a stand-up comedienne and relieves the tension of her graphic description. Mr. Powell, portraying a rather disturbingly aggressive and antisocial Christopher, minces no words in the character’s goal of writing a first novel at all costs but seeking mentorship. He is energetic, determined, and forceful, yet in a charming, immature way. Their life stories soon become entangled. Vincent M. Lancisi has directed with sensitivity to both actors and the audience in making the more difficult content palatable.
The creative team has done a terrific job presenting this play. Yu Shibagaki’s sets are minimal but effective, taking up only about a third of the stage, which increases the audience’s concentration on the scene. The sets are moved very slowly to their positions while the characters are speaking, so the transition is hardly noticed. The sides of the proscenium are used to represent a college campus building with lit windows and doors. Adam Mendelson’s lighting is confined to the set pieces, not to the entire stage, and he uses several spotlights to highlight the characters, especially when they are addressing the audience. Kelly Colburn’s projection designs above the proscenium enhance the atmosphere, and Tosin Olufolabi’s intermittent, soft music provides a gentle calmness and soothing as the characters become distraught. Ivania Stack has done a marvelous job with costumes depicting everyday college student clothes and the rather drab professorial garb of college faculty.
So to what does the “sound inside” refer? The director told us in his welcoming remarks to use our imagination. Is there a story within the story? The publicity states, “Everyone has a story—the question is, how will it end?” But is the “story” in the telling? Who is writing it? Essentially this is a play about loneliness engendering creativity and acceptance. Perhaps Paul Simon said it best when he wrote, “The vision that was planted in my brain still remains—within the sound of silence.”
Running time: One hour and 30 minutes with no intermission.
Content transparency: This play contains dialogue that includes language about cancer, suicide, murder, illegal procurement of substances online, and a graphic description of consensual sex.
“The Sound Inside” runs through April 2, 2023 at Everyman Theatre, 315 W. Fayette Street, Baltimore MD 21201. FOr more information and to purchase tickets, call the Box Office at (410)752-2208. Standard box office hours are Monday – Friday, 10 am-4 pm, and Saturday, 12 pm-4 pm or visit the website here. Masks are recommended but not required.