At SpeakEasy, ‘The Sound Inside’ is loud and clear
BOSTON – Is there anything that tears at the soul like loneliness?
Yale University Professor Bella Lee Baird finds an unlikely ally in her attempts to connect during a perilous moment in her life as the SpeakEasy Stage Company welcomes back live audiences with a pitch-perfect production of Adam Rapp’s “The Sound Inside.”
The SpeakEasy is a member of a large consortium of Boston-area theaters that have instituted Covid-19 protocols that include wearing masks and providing proof of vaccination or a recent Covid test before entering.
The show comes to Boston with freshly-minted honors. A couple of days after the Speakeasy run began in the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts, Mary-Louise Parker won the Tony Award for her portrayal of Bella Baird on Broadway. “The Sound Inside” was also nominated for Best Play, losing to Matthew Lopez’s “The Inheritance,” which SpeakEasy will present in April 2022.
Rapp has crafted an intimate piece that successfully made the transition from off-Broadway to a much larger house under the direction of David Cromer, whose “Our Town” had a blissful run in the Calderwood Pavilion. Here, Director Bryn Boice takes advantage of the smaller space to put a laser focus on her characters and continuously ratchets up the intensity.
The play is a mystery of the darkest kind, made moreso by the minimalist set by Christina Todesco, the hyper-focused lighting by Devorah Kengmana, leaving almost all of the stage in darkness much of the time, and the mournful sound design by David Remedios.
Norton Award-winning actress Jennifer Rohn puts her own stamp on the role of Professor Baird. She breaks down the fourth wall early, baring her soul to the audience about her life and personal situation, which includes being 50-something and never having married, not being in a current relationship, and with no family.
She also details her modest successes as a writer, which include a warmly-reviewed but not best-selling novel which struggles to stay in print, and two volumes of short stories.
She also reveals another very personal fact: She is suffering from Stage 2 cancer, with a less-than-enthusiastic outlook from her oncologist.
Then, Bella tells us about a freshman student in her Reader Fiction for Craft class who walks into her office without making the customary appointment.
Christopher Dunn (Nathan Malin) from Burlington, Vt. is not the typical Eli. He doesn’t do email – hence his rude walk-in self-made appointments. He typically wears a gas station attendant’s uniform and is subject to profane rants, and he does Dunkin’ instead of fancier coffees, but he shares with Bella an obsession with “Crime and Punishment.”
Bella sees in him a spark, a light, and when he shares his in-the-progress work about a student also named Christopher, she is drawn even deeper into this world.
Malin’s was one of many fine performances in Speakeasy’s much-honored production of “Admission” and here he is a revelation in a very difficult role that has many different shades.
Rohn is simply riveting throughout.
Rapp has artfully crafted the twists and turns of the plot and drops clues here and there about where he is going, and when Christopher presents his finished work to Bella and asks for her input, she asks for something in return.
Norton Award-winning Director Boice is part of a diverse cadre of female directors who have come onto the scene in recent years and quickly gained both attention and acclaim. In her work to date, she has shown a certain fearlessness that serves her well here.
In an interview in the program, Boice said she hopes one of the things that audiences will take away from the play is “a reminder that when we see something special in another person, we should reach out. We have no idea who our angels are going to be.”
These past 18 months have shown the devastation that pandemic-related isolation can have on the human psyche, and this return to live theater is giving us a chance to re-connect with both each other and the magic on stage in a meaningful – and in this instance a very powerful — way.
The SpeakEasy Stage Company production of “The Sound Inside.” Written by Adam Rapp. Directed by Bryn Boice. In the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts though Oct. 16. For ticket information, go to SpeakEasyStage.com.