Somewhere around an hour into The Sound Inside, the focus of Adam Rapp’s play noticeably shifts. Its protagonist, Bella (Mary-Louise Parker), a middle-aged English professor, finds her health declining rapidly. (Early on, she explains to us that she has a rare and particularly virulent form of abdominal cancer.)
As the stakes rise, so does Rapp’s writing, and if the final scenes, where Bella shares her life and some secret plans with Christopher (Will Hochman), a doting student, are fairly implausible, they are also infused with inner light and emotion. Thank David Cromer’s beautifully simple production for a lot of this, with beautiful design work by Alexander Woodward (scenery), Heather Gilbert (lighting), and Aaron Rhyne (projections). Also, Parker’s perfectly modulated, understated but vibrant performance. Hochman, in his Broadway debut, is nearly as good.
Anyway, I doubt there was a dry eye in the house. Except mine.
Why wasn’t I crying? Well, first of all, I’m highly resistant to being worked over, and Rapp’s manipulation is pretty blatant.
But more to the point, I was so put off by the first hour of The Sound Inside that I simply couldn’t go there. The pretension, privilege and smugness of Rapp’s script was pretty near unbearable. Most of the early scenes revolve around conversations Bella and Christopher have about literature, and they’re simply insufferable.
As the two converse gauzily about their lives and dreams, the dropped names rise to at least waist level. I lost count of the number of times “Yale” (where, unsurprisingly, Rapp has taught) was mentioned. Or the litany of their favorite authors, from Raymond Carver to Lynda Barry to James Salter. But it’s Dostoyevsky they love best, though the apercus Rapp provides them with are what might generously be described as entry level.
The corollary point is also made when Bella tells us of a time she was so desperate that she picked up a contractor in some New Haven bar, and took him to a motel where they had sex even as the TV was showing—can you imagine?—Everybody Loves Raymond! Now that’s slumming.
Frankly, by the time we’re meant to care deeply about these characters, I’d had more than enough of them.
Even in the play’s final moments, Rapp can’t resist one last opportunity to pat himself on the back, as Bella, reading a manuscript Christopher has written, exclaims with delight that it ends with ellipses. To be elliptical, we’re meant to understand, is to be sophisticated.
Personally, I’m not so sure…
The Sound Inside runs through January 12th. For more information, visit the show’s website.