Playwright Adam Rapp’s Broadway debut, The Sound Inside, is a slippery mystery featuring a subtle central performance from Mary-Louise Parker.
Parker plays Bella, a Yale creative-writing professor whose fiction-writing career has stalled. She’s re-energised by one of her students, Christopher (Will Hochman), in their discussions over the cryptic novel he is writing. But then she is diagnosed with stomach cancer.
Nothing about the play is straightforward. With notebook in hand, jotting down her own phrases, is Bella telling us about a fictional character named Bella or is this her actual life story? Is the whole thing invented or is it a mixture of truth and fiction? Bella and Christopher both narrate scenes, with passages of his novel – about a Yale student named Christopher – woven in too.
The twisty, self-conscious narrative is given an elegant, minimalist production by director David Cromer. Ghostly images seem to emerge from the fog of Bella’s memory – or, perhaps, her imagination. Both play and production withhold things from the audience. Lighting designer Heather Gilbert uses suffocating blackness to limit what can be seen.
Parker is excellent. She moves effortlessly from reticence to playfulness, enthusiasm to resignation, while also carrying the weight of all the storytelling. It’s not a showy performance; but in an understated way she probes the subterranean depths of the character.
It’s hard to wholly give in to the play’s emotional traps because of its duplicitous structure and coolness of tone. But it’s a tantalising yarn nonetheless, allowing for oodles of speculation afterwards.