Theater Review: THE SOUND INSIDE (The Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena)

Post image for Theater Review: THE SOUND INSIDE (The Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena)

by Michael M. Landman-Karny on September 11, 2023

in Theater-Los Angeles


Set in the dimly lit confines of a college creative writing class and the private world of its reclusive protagonist, The Sound Inside, which opened last night at Pasadena Playhouse, is a riveting exploration of the human condition, loneliness, and the pursuit of meaningful connection. TV and stage veteran Amy Brenneman plays Bella Baird, a brilliant Yale University professor grappling with the complexities of her own existence while nurturing the fragile dreams of a gifted student.

From the moment the play begins, the audience is enveloped in Bella’s world — a world that revolves around books, solitude, and the profound power of storytelling. Adam Rapp‘s writing is a tour de force of literary acumen, filled with erudition and grace. His characters speak in eloquent, thought-provoking monologues that are a testament to the timeless beauty of language. The Sound Inside is replete with narration, a verdant thicket of words that Brenneman, in particular, must navigate. Through detailed recollections of Bella’s medical history, family background, and book collection, the script presents opportunities for profound reflection. Each utterance potentially yields literary fruit, which Brenneman assesses with keen discernment—deciding whether it is ripe for publication or destined for the compost heap. Brenneman’s portrayal did not quite capture the fragile balance between intellectual brilliance and emotional fragility, but I anticipate her performance will get deeper over time.

Recent Juilliard graduate Keith Anders convincingly plays Christopher Dunn, Bella’s enigmatic student. He and Brenneman have the requisite stage chemistry. Their dynamic is the nucleus of the play, with each character representing a different facet of the human psyche—Bella, the seasoned wordsmith battling her own demons, and Christopher, the young prodigy navigating his own dark waters.

Under Cameron Watson‘s sensitive direction, one of the play’s most compelling aspects is its ability to blur the lines between fiction and reality. Bella’s storytelling prowess is on full display as she weaves tales that resonate deeply with the audience, prompting them to question the nature of truth and art. The Sound Inside is as much a contemplation of the art of writing as it is a narrative, inviting the audience to ponder the ethical implications of using one’s experiences as fodder for creativity. While it is a much better play, The Sound Inside reminded me of Donald Margulies’ Collected Stories, about the friendship between a writing professor, who’s known for her short stories, and the student who ends up using the professor’s life to write a best-selling novel.

Throughout the play’s 90-minute runtime, Bella and Christopher’s evolving relationship takes unexpected twists and turns, culminating in a breathtaking climax that leaves the audience in stunned silence. Rapp’s narrative refuses to provide easy answers, opting instead for a more profound, ambiguous exploration of the human condition.

The lighting design by Jared A. Sayeg deserves special mention. The use of lights and shadows masterfully underscores the themes of transience and perspective that permeate the play. The plain abstract sliding-screen sets and projections by Tesshi Nakagawa also aid in creating an atmosphere of haunting, melancholic beauty. Jeff Gardner‘s sound design is exemplary, ensuring that every word is audible.

The Sound Inside has been lingering in my mind. It is a haunting symphony of solitude and connection that challenges us to examine the stories we tell and the relationships we forge in our own lives. For those seeking a thought-provoking, emotionally charged theatrical experience, this is a must-see.

photos by Mike Palma

The Sound Inside
Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave. in Pasadena
Tues-Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on October 1, 2023
for tickets (starting at $35), call 626.356.7529 or visit Pasadena Playhouse

Leave a Comment