By: Isa Goldberg
October 31, 2019: There is something ineffable about our favorite actors, something present and pervasive, yet untouchable. Such an actor is Mary Louise Parker, whose portrayal of a creative writing professor in Adam Rapp’s new play, The Sound Inside, is daunting.
Parker, who blends toughness with frailty, brings to mind the film icon, Katherine Hepburn. Her tall, lythe frame, and long slender fingers construct a picture of gracefulness. And her ability to appear familiar, approachable, and sublime all at once make her work on stage, and film highly memorable.
Indeed, Parker is the perfect heroine for Adam Rapp’s drama. As Bella (Parker) expresses it in her opening monologue, “She often dissuades her students from describing a protagonist in too fine of detail… If you do your authorial job correctly your reader will create the rest of the character.” The same applies to the Hollywood shamen on whom we project our own conscious and self-conscious thoughts.
Here, in Adam Rapp’s two-person drama, Parker is on stage throughout most of the play, struggling with writer’s block, her cancer diagnosis, and her relationship with a particular student. Although Rapp’s predisposition to small spaces, and east village settings is absent here, his preoccupation with depression, drugs, suicide, and a generalized sense of depravity is very much alive. So is his poetic writing style.
As is his wont, Director David Cromer reaches into the humanity and despair of these two characters with great aplomb. Here the student, Christopher Dunn, deftly portrayed by Will Hochman in his Broadway debut, is a character we’ve met before in Rapp’s plays. A disillusioned artistic young man, whose existential quest pulls him into irresolvable dimensions.
Much like the character, Raskolnikov, in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, which Bella teaches in her class, Christopher is proud and haughty, albeit gloomy and morose. More importantly, he embodies Raskolnikov’s dualities, and contradictory actions. His foreshadowing observation early in the play, “The notion of counterbalancing a carefully plotted murder with good deeds is fascinating stuff” speaks to a major contradiction indeed.
His intimacy with Bella develops through their conversations about the stories they write. Stories which clearly parallel the play’s narrative. Cromer explores the drama of their emotional interplay beyond the literal events of the plot. In fact, very little happens here, in the sense of action. Similarly, it’s staged in an open space with little adornment.
After all, Bella’s idea of heightened experience is finding a partner who she can lie in bed with, reading a great novel. ‘Because loving a book,” she opines,” is kind of like having an affair, after all.” And Bella does love Christopher’s novel. That novel is the beginning and the end of their life together.
In its way a trifle, The Sound Inside is evocative of the Golden Age of Broadway shows. A pleasure of the moment that captures a sense of character, and zeitgeist in tumultuous times.
The Sound Inside ****1/2
Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St., NYC.
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission. (212) 239-6200.
Oct. 17—Jan. 12, 2020.
Photography: Jeremy Daniel