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A CurtainUp Review
The Sound Inside
Leave us alone without books and we shall be lost and in confusion at once. — Bella
Who said that, Dr. Seuss? — Christopher
Dostoyevsky. — Bella
Will Hochman and Mary Louise Parker (Jeremy Daniels)
In Adam Rapp's beautifully written/emotionally involving play The Sound Inside the protagonist is a tenth tenured year 53 year-old professor who teaches creative writing at a prestigious Ivy League school. She has received word from the oncologist that the cancer detected in her abdomen has metastasized. Facing the negative prognosis, Bella contemplates the options — including suicide.

A totally arresting Mary Louise Parker is repeating the role she created at the Williamstown Theater Festival. Her Bella, has no family and is neither married nor involved romantically, so has to make some vital decisions on her own. She is acutely aware that she won't have the comfort and support that she was able to afford her mother who died from cancer while in her care.

We first meet Bella as she comes forward to us alone on a pitch black stage with only a spotlight on her. After serving as the play's narrator in a short prologue that sounds as if she is dictating her autobiography, she segues as herself into a series of short scenes with the play's only other character, Christopher (Will Hochman). He's a brash young freshman who barges into her office without going through the normal appointment channels. He's the perfect antagonistic, anti-social, conflicted young male whom playwright (also novelist) Rapp wrote and defined so pitilessly in his unforgettably disturbing and gritty plays Finer Noble Gases , Kindness , The Metal Children and the Hallway Trilogy .

Despite her dedication to the undergraduate students who she is hopefully inspiring to break with the norm, Bella is also consumed with thinking about how she should move forward and possibly also break with the norms of cancer treatments that include chemo therapy. This is put temporarily on hold when Christopher, a far from normal student, tells Bella he has written a novel.

It becomes clear that Christopher is an outsider. He has a gift that, despite a professed detachment from his peers as well as his refusal to use email or any of the other prescribed avenues of social contact. He calls Twitter "cheap haiku for the overly caffeinated." This sense of alienation prods him to reach out for Bella's attention and support.

I couldn't help thinking of The Corn is Green the 1938 play by Emlyn Williams' in which a teacher discovers and nurtures a student with an exceptional intelligence — and through him discovers her own value.

If there is the slightest hint of a romantic dalliance between Bella and Christopher, it is smartly avoided. This, as Rapp chooses, is a more metaphysical and psychologically persuasive path for this often fraught teacher suddenly caught between being skeptical and insensitive, and then courageously available for her occasionally near frenzied student.

Yes, Bella is sparked and renewed by Christopher to think in sexual terms . But this serves only to send her out for a one night stand about which she hilariously reports to us in great detail.

Christopher has previously made it clear that although he is heterosexual, sex is not and has never been a high priority. He does admit to a phobia about being touched. We might suspect this as a symptom of Asberger's syndrome but it is not considered seriously beyond his mentioning.

Hochman, who is making his Broadway debut, but also repeating the role he created at Williamstown, is convincing, and more so at every turn of his mercurial behavior. Impressed after reading the one and only novel that Bella has published, Christopher is anxious for her to read and criticize his manuscript.

It the plot sounds as it it might turn too easily on a twist, you may be right. However, Rapp gives us so much to relish and understand through the way Bella and Christopher open up to each other that many, as I was, will listen in awe to the tenderness and the cleverness with which their talks, and thus their relationship, evolve.

The play in only ninety minutes, also lets the warmth and the spirit of Bella and Christopher's contractual bonding define their poignant final meeting. This, even as it reveals whose life and the living of it is actually decided.

David Cromer, who also directed the original production, keeps his eye on the dramatic prize — that is keeping the vulnerability and the circumscribed mission of the play's two conflicted characters at the center of the production. Almost devoid of scenery except for a few set pieces that slide into view, the production is nevertheless expertly designed by Alexander Woodward. The ravishing, almost mystical lighting designed by Heather Gilbert lifts the play beyond its earthly confines.

If there is such a thing an illuminated dark play, this is it.

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The Sound Inside ny Adam Rapp
Directed by David Cromer
Cast: Mary Louis Parker (Bella) Will Hochman (Christopher)
Scenic Design: Alexander Woodward
Costume Design: David Hyman
Lighting Design: Heather Gilbert
Music and Sound: Daniel Kluger
Projection Design:Aaron Rhyne
Production Stage Manager: Richard A. Ridge
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes no intermission
Studio 54 254 West 54th Street
Tuesday-Thursday evenings at 7pm, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8pm, Wednesday and Saturdays at 2pm and Sunday at 3pm.
From 09/14/19 Opened 10/17/19 Ends 01/12/20
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 10/16/19

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