Review: THE SOUND INSIDE at Goodman Theatre

Review: THE SOUND INSIDE at Goodman Theatre

Broadcast live from Goodman Theatre’s intimate Owen Theatre, THE SOUND INSIDE intrigues because of the twists and turns in Adam Rapp’s script, but also because it combines cinematic-quality streaming with the thrill of live theater. It’s been over a year since I last stepped inside a theater, and now with the first limited run production in its LIVE series, the Goodman has come extremely close to capturing the exhilaration of being live and in the room with theater. Running only for four more performances through Sunday, May 16, THE SOUND INSIDE is indeed a unique and limited-edition experience. 

The Goodman’s Artistic Director Robert Falls directs the production with the formidable Mary Beth Fisher as Bella Lee Baird, a 50-something creative writing professor at Yale University, and John Drea as her freshman student Christopher Shinn. In every production in which I’ve seen Fisher, she’s always easily commanded the stage. It’s no surprise here that she commands both stage and screen. Falls’s directorial choices also keep in mind that this is a livestream, guiding the audience’s focus throughout the production (Christiana Tye video directs).

Fisher is a great choice for the role, for Rapp’s script calls upon a powerful performer who can hold the audience’s attention through long stretches of monologue. In an homage to the literature that Bella loves so much, THE SOUND INSIDE has a presentational style akin to chamber theater; Bella relays the play’s events as if she were narrating a novel in first person (and, at brief stretches, Christopher does the same). While this type of storytelling device can sometimes become too expositional, it functions supremely well here. As the surprising twists and layers in Rapp’s script reveal themselves, I became more and more drawn into Bella’s explanation of events. In this way, it seems like Bella and the audience are watching the mysteries of the play unfold collectively. 

THE SOUND INSIDE is certainly not short on those mysteries, either. At the top of the play, Bella tells audiences she’s recently been diagnosed with stage 2 stomach cancer and that the odds of her survival are grim. This is around the same time that Bella and Christopher start to develop a relationship that will end up blurring the lines of propriety between professor and student — though not in the ways in which audiences might initially suspect. Bella and Christopher both seem to struggle with finding their rightful places on Yale’s campus; Bella as she contemplates the news in her life and what she thinks her legacy might be, and Christopher with his lack of reverence for the norms of his elite Ivy League university. When we first encounter Christopher, he barges into Bella’s office unannounced and outside of her office hours — without even emailing first (and, in fact, he tells Bella that he does not care for email). 

As Bella and Christopher’s relationship deepens, so too do the mysteries of the play. And while Bella commands the first-person narration for much of the run time, the brief direct addresses Christopher gives to the audience reveal little about his inner thoughts. Thus, both Bella and the audience are left to ponder some of Christopher’s actions and words. It’s a brilliant theatrical device. And while Christopher is simultaneously a comfort and a mystery to Bella, Fisher and Drea display a strong bond onstage. They handle Rapp’s dialogue passages with so much authenticity, drawing us into their unusual professor-student dynamic. Fisher plays up Bella’s level of intelligence and at times perfunctory delivery in her performance, but she also lets us see the more vulnerable woman underneath that surface. Drea is affable as Christopher, but he also has a reservedness to his delivery — which only serves to make his character all the more intriguing. 

THE SOUND INSIDE is dark and exhilarating as it explores the stories we often craft for ourselves and the nature of legacy. And it was an excellent choice for the first production in Goodman Theatre’s LIVE series; a two-person play allows the audience to see the actors close-up. But the intimacy of the work itself also means that there aren’t potentially so many areas of visual focus that we lose one of the most magical parts of live theater itself: the power that we as audience members have to decide how we’d like to engage with the story that’s unfolding onstage. For those who are still deeply missing live theater, THE SOUND INSIDE captures that feeling of possibility — in both the script itself and in the livestream production, it feels like we can write our own meanings and interpretations onto the experience. 

Goodman Theatre’s THE SOUND INSIDE streams for four remaining performances: Friday, May 14 at 7:30pm; Saturday, May 15 at 2pm and 7:30pm; and Sunday, May 16 at 2pm (with Open Captioning available). Tickets are $30 (or $60 for all three plays in the LIVE series). Visit GoodmanTheatre.org/Live. 

Photo Credit: Cody Nieset

Originally published on BroadwayWorld.com

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