Feeling the power of ‘The Sound Inside’ with Mary-Louise Parker

Mary-Louise Parker in The Sound Inside (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

The solitary life of a middle-aged, tenured creative writing professor at Yale is shaken up by the onset of stomach cancer and the arrival of a gifted, difficult and mysterious male freshman in “The Sound Inside.”

It’s a small-scale, unexpectedly gripping new work by Pulitzer finalist Adam Rapp (“Red Light Winter”), with direction by Tony winner David Cromer (“The Band’s Visit”) and starring stage and film actress Mary-Louise Parker. 

Following a debut in 2018 at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, “The Sound Inside” is receiving its New York premiere on Broadway at Studio 54 in a co-venture between commercial producers and Lincoln Center Theater. After many Off-Broadway productions over the past two decades, “The Sound Inside” marks a long-delayed and much-deserved Broadway debut for Rapp (who is the brother of original “Rent” star Anthony Rapp).

Even with Parker in tow, “The Sound Inside” could have easily ended up instead at one of the various not-for-profit Off-Broadway theaters that have previously presented Rapp’s plays such as Playwrights Horizons, Vineyard Theatre, Atlantic Theater Company, or New York Theatre Workshop. A sufficient number of people had to believe that “The Sound Inside” was special enough to merit a Broadway bow.

This is turning out to be quite a season for Parker, who will return to Broadway in the spring in a new production of the memory play “How I Learned to Drive” – in the very same role she played back in 1997 to considerable acclaim. 

While Parker is well-supported in “The Sound Inside” by her young co-star Will Hochman  (“Dead Poets Society” at Classic Stage Company) and Cromer’s ultra-precise and lean staging, “The Sound Inside” is practically a 90-minute monologue full of lengthy descriptive detail and authorial analysis to be delivered to the audience – no small challenge.

Bella, Parker’s character, begins the play against a backdrop of vast and misty darkness, intended to evoke an empty park late at night. After briefly introducing herself, Bella proceeds to look back on her brief but impactful relationship with Christopher (Hochman), which begins with spirited debates during office hours over “Crime and Punishment” and evolves into both sharing intimate details from their lives.

In particular, Christopher reveals that he is writing a novel, which is centered around a protagonist resembling himself who goes on a trip to New York City, covertly and uncaringly commits an act of brutal violence and then goes home to visit his mother as if nothing at all just happened. Eventually, Christopher is gone, and Bella is left where she began, trying to make sense of all that she just went through physically and emotionally, perhaps with the goal of converting it to writing.

“The Sound Inside” is a real rarity – a direct, actionless, slim piece that sounds as if it will be a bore but instead turns out to be uniformly engrossing. Parker gives a shaded performance that captures Bella’s curiosity, guarded nature and sense of struggling. Hochman makes for a fine counterpart, combining raw temperamental fits with bits of insight and confession.

3.5 stars!

“The Sound Inside” runs through Jan. 12 at Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St., soundinsidebroadway.com.

Matt Windman