Lyrics by James Robertson
Bringing theater back to basics, “The Sound Inside” takes you on a hard-hitting journey down the paths of a meandering teacher-student relationship, flowing fluidly through their history like quickly turning the pages of an enthralling novel.
Written by Adam Rapp (Winter Red Light, Merle) in 2018, this Australian premiere from director Sarah Goodes (Home I’m darling) follows multiple Tony Award nominations, including Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play in 2020 for Mary-Louise Parker’s portrayal of the title character. After this critical success, it makes perfect sense for the Melbourne Theater Company to bring this minimal production to life: especially in the age of COVID where smaller cast and crew are integral.
With a direct address to the audience flowing seamlessly into a slice-of-life scene, Rapp’s melodic, prosaic dialogue evokes the lives of the characters; channeling all the loneliness, love and apathy that comes with it. Catherine McClements (three little words) commands the stage as Bella Baird, a middle-aged Ivy League literature professor who finds herself alone but content as a creative writing teacher with an endless collection of first-edition books.
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His life begins to change when Christopher Dunn, played by Shiv Palekar (the real thing), walks into his office without an appointment, but with a boisterous attitude and an undying passion for all things literary. Hoping to be the next great American writer, Bella Baird guides him as he begins to write his own novel, but what this strange relationship evolves into as Bella faces her own existential crisis is the heart of the room.
The central relationship between Bella and Christopher is endlessly believable, with McClements and Palekar striking that delicate balance of a teacher/student relationship that isn’t marked by awkwardness. Indeed, Palekar embodies the ideal of a young man aged beyond his years with his serious yet stoic demeanor. This is challenged by McClements’ languorous indifference but, at times, his almost boyish sense of comedy. These moments of levity in the dark were extremely refreshing, allowing the humanity of these characters to shine through without diminishing the tone.
The austerity of the Fairfax Studio matches the simplicity of the room. Elizabeth Gadsby and Jo Briscoe’s work on set is an exercise in minimalism, with the stage marked only by an overbearing street lamp from the start. As the stage rotates over two opposing, rotating sections, a dynamic quality is lent to the way the two actors move through the space. Few additional elements are layered, but still done with intention, and enhanced by a surprising inclusion at the end.
Finally ending in tragedy, The sound inside elucidates hope through its dark interiors. Meditating on the power of literature and the connections people can make to each other, Adam Rapp’s dive into the lives of these two unlikely characters is thrilling to watch play out on stage. Conveying a multitude of nuances that color the ups and downs of human experience, The sound inside will leave you feeling empty ready to be filled with the vigor of life.
The sound inside runs from May 20 to July 2, 2022 at the Melbourne Theater Company, tickets and more info here.