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September 12, 2023:

The Sound Inside reviewed by Rob Stevens

(all photos by Mike Palma)

The Pasadena Playhouse has launched their new season, the first after receiving the Regional Theatre Tony Award in June, with Adam Rapp’s The Sound Inside, a 90-minute two-hander about lonely lives and making connections. Bella Lee Baird (Amy Brenneman) is a never-married, fiftyish, tenured creative writing professor at Yale. She has published two slim books of short stories as well as a young adult novel. She has just been told her stomach is riddled with cancerous tumors. It’s Stage 2 but the prognosis of her oncologist is not very hopeful. Christopher Dunn (Anders Keith) is a freshman in her Reading Fiction for Craft class. He is a loner from a small New England town. He abhors email and baristas; he writes on a typewriter. He appears in his professor’s office without an appointment. The two bond over their love of language and literature.

Rapp has created two fascinating characters, two who you would never imagine could connect, but they do. Bella always starts her class off with Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Christopher really obsesses over the book and its murderous main character. He promises he will someday write such a classic. He begins to tell his professor the plot of his novel-in-progress, reading pages to her. She encourages the exploration of his characters. Over meals and drinks and their shared love of books, their relationship continues to grow swiftly. An ordinary playwright would soon have them in bed. That is not Rapp’s choice. His endgame is deeper, darker, more unexpected. His masterful writing pulls the audience in from the first monologue and never let’s go. He has his characters often speak in monologues, often describe the action rather than enact it, often having them switch viewpoints within a scene.

Cameron Watson has directed with pinpoint clarity and permits his actors to live and breathe their dialogue. Brenneman commands the stage from the opening moments to the closing. Her Bella is an enigma that will never really be solved. Keith matches her scene by scene. They truly form a dynamic duo that keeps your interest, desperate to know where playwright Rapp is taking them.


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