Review of The Sound Inside, starring Mary-Louise Parker, on Broadway

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    October 18, 2019
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    Who said critics don't matter anymore? Adam Rapp's The Sound Inside got a rave review from Jesse Green in the New York Times when it premiered at Berkshire's powerhouse Williamstown Theatre Festival in northwest Massachusetts in July 2018, and now it has been propelled on to a Broadway transfer to Studio 54, under the auspices of Lincoln Centre Theater and some 17 commercial producing partners. That it has taken some heavy lifting (and no doubt a considerable financial commitment) to do so is a testament to the power of the 950 words that Green used to describe this otherwise seemingly understated, internal two-character drama.

    Broadway, of course, usually trades in bigger gestures, emotions and effects than this spellbindingly contained new play that inhabits a rarefied world entirely of its own. In a season that is seeing at least a dozen shows imported from London, however, it's a welcome show of confidence in a celebrated Off-Broadway, Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright finally making his belated Broadway debut at the age of 51.

    Yet at the same time it has to be acknowledged that the evening may not be to everyone's tastes. Few plays are more monochrome than this highly articulate yet intentionally dark piece, both in its moodily atmospheric staging, and also in the deliberate, slow unfolding of its drama. It demands -- and repays -- close attention.

    It revolves around Bella, a long-tenured professor of creative writing at Yale University, who at the age of 53 receives a devastating cancer diagnosis, and her evolving relationship with a freshman student of hers called Christopher, with whom she shares a literary affinity but also implicates in her plans to commit suicide. To say more would be to run the risk of spoiling this play's carefully articulated surprises.

    But more than the plotting, the evening is mainly gripping for the spellbinding clarity of feeling that the two actors bring to their beautifully still, finely crafted performances. Mary Louise-Parker, who began her career on the New York stage before achieving wider celebrity in television (including award-winning work in the TV version of Angels in America, "The West Wing," and "Weeds") and film, is both poised and powerful as the teacher with a lot of self-knowledge. And newcomer Will Hochman, making his Broadway debut as her student, more than holds his own against her.

    This is a play of real sensitivity and rapt intensity, and it has been realised with exacting economy by director David Cromer: sets, projections, lighting and sound artfully play their own discreet parts in raising the stakes on what happens without in any way overwhelming it.

    (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

    "When I saw its world premiere at the Williamstown Theater Festival in 2018, it was already a gripping small-scale mystery, and a spectacular showcase for its star, Mary-Louise Parker. Now, having been put through Cromer’s less-is-everything makeover, it’s even more resonant on Broadway: a tragedy about fiction, both the kind we read and the kind we live."
    Jesse Green for New York Times

    "Anything Mary-Louise Parker is in deserves special attention. Granted, she's the actor, not the writer, but she seems to choose her roles for their layered depth, and so we have The Sound Inside, a tiny two-hander with mighty aspirations. And while I found it to be off-puttingly bookish in some respects, playwright Adam Rapp, with a huge assist from his star and director, does weave a compelling yarn."
    Roma Torre for NY1

    "If there’s a movie or play that better dramatizes the sound inside a writer’s head and how that stuff ends up as meaningful words on paper, I haven’t seen it."
    Robert Hofler for The Wrap

    "The Sound Inside is an emotionally layered two-hander in which the process of writing, reading and analyzing fiction is an inextricable part of how we come to know and care about both characters, played with moving restraint by a superb Mary-Louise Parker and impressive newcomer Will Hochman. Directed with exquisite feeling and precision by David Cromer, this intimate drama manages to be both literary and rivetingly theatrical."
    David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter