Intermission: The Sound Inside

(photo courtesy of iStock by Getty Images)

Quarantine continues, entering into its second month now, and Broadway has taken a massive punch. As quarantine enters its second month, and many industries are still struggling to make ends meet, Broadway has taken a massive economic punch.

Closures of theaters across New York City have extended into late September, shows that were intended for a spring release have suffered the miserable fate of folding entirely, and the biggest promotional tool for the industry, the Tony Awards, is now in jeopardy.

Yet, I am still getting my taste of theatre during this unnavigable period.

The second play in my Intermission series, where I discuss some of the plays from this past abbreviated season that have closed, is Adam Rapp’s The Sound Inside. This is a play with an intimate and unique narrative detailing the brief relationship between a college professor and her student.

Bella Blair is a fifty-three-year-old teacher of Creative Writing at Yale. She is, so to say, accomplished in that she had a highly successful novel published seventeen years prior to the events of the play. Unfortunately, despite making several best-of-the-year lists at the time of its release, her book has been largely forgotten about and is all but out of print. Bella lives alone with no partner or children, and both of her parents are deceased. The horrific battle her mother faced of cancer still echoes loudly in her mind.

Christopher is in his early twenties. A student in Bella’s writing class, he is introduced as a seemingly precocious, snobby literature enthusiast with dreams to be a writer like David Foster Wallace. He despises Twitter, declaring that the character limit is too restrictive of writers, and loathes the modern writer for choosing to cling to such a platform. Respectful of Bella’s career and stature as a writer, he confides in her his struggles and ambitions in writing a novel of his own.

It is in Bella’s office where our two characters meet, in an evening session unannounced by Christopher, who refuses to utilize the school’s technology to schedule a meeting. The play shows a series of these meetings, told by both characters addressing the audience and engaging in dialogue with one another. Bella becomes attached to Christopher, inviting him out to dinner and into her home to discuss their lives and careers. It is a beautiful connection between two artists and two human beings that seem somewhat tormented by their own isolation. A sentiment all-too-familiar to those of us in lockdown. The meetings become routine.

This routine is interrupted when Bella becomes hospitalized with stomach cancer. She is forced to stay away from the school for a while, but eventually returns to the joy of Christopher, who has taken umbrage with the substitute teacher. The young man has finished his novel and wants his beloved instructor to read it in its entirety. Meanwhile, Bella’s will to continue living with her cancer has prompted her to seek methods to end her life. She wishes for Christopher’s assistance with the process.

I will end the plot summary here, for Adam Rapp delivers one of the best twists I have read in drama in recent times with what follows. Believe me when I say that the ending is quite heart wrenching.

The Sound Inside is a rather idiosyncratic, or peculiar, peculiar piece of writing. “This can be seen as Rapp delivers a study of two characters with wildly different experiences but a similar will that becomes thrilling and dripping with suspense. It is through the relationship he details that an initial generation gap slowly closes between Bella and Christopher, and the two are richly layered with secrets, angst, and yearning. The narrative style is impressive, and even more so considering the actual performing of this play. Any actor that takes on one of these is given a huge responsibility not only in delivering massive amounts of monologue and dialogue, but inhabiting gems of character.

This duty is something that Tony-winning actress Mary-Louise Parker knows all too well, as she portrayed Bella during the play’s Broadway run, which opened on October 17, 2019. Sound Inside received lauding reviews (most of which was directed towards Rapp’s script and Parker’s performance) throughout its series of performances, with the final curtain drawn on January 12, 2020.

The published edition of the play, which is what I read and drew upon for discussing here, was published two days after closing on Broadway through Theatre Communications Group (TCG) and is available for purchase through online retailers. If a literary drama-turned-gripping thriller is of your fancy, I would suggest giving it a read.

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Screenwriter, Author, Actor, but most importantly, Viewer. Lover of visual arts and drama, commentator on what’s happening in film, theater, and literature.

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Dylan James

Dylan James

Screenwriter, Author, Actor, but most importantly, Viewer. Lover of visual arts and drama, commentator on what’s happening in film, theater, and literature.

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