The Sound Inside tells the story of Bella Baird, an isolated creative writing professor at Yale, who begins to mentor a brilliant but enigmatic student, Christopher. The two quickly form an unexpectedly intense bond. As their lives and the stories they tell about themselves become intertwined in unpredictable ways, Bella makes a surprising request of Christopher.
Adam Rapp’s play explores the limits of what one person can ask of another. Does the bond formed between Bella (Moya O’Connell) and Christopher (Aidan Correia) influence the extent to which they will go to help one another? Will Christopher actually help Bella out?
These are some of the questions we are asked even before experiencing The Sound Inside. This deeply intimate and evocative play brings forth various themes. At first I sat in the audience thinking how is a play set in the Yale University campus, with characters that are not easily relatable, relevant to any of us. Soon enough, I was transported into that setting withough giving it another thought.
Rapp has written a very wordy play that manages to keep us attentive. Thanks to the descriptive dialogue, the references to literary texts including Dostoyevsky, Faulkner, Beckett, Wharton, James Salter among others, and of course, O’Connell and Correia’s performances, we become witnesses to the relationship that forms between the two characters.
The Sound Inside is wordy but this wordiness is necessary to bring forth themes such as loneliness, friendship, connection (regardless of age), and finding a kindred spirit. Tragic moments mixed with dark humour work well; especially when discussing some heavy topics like cancer and death.
The role of Bella is very dialogue heavy, and O’Connell’s portrayal is so good, it appears effortless.
Some of my favourite lines by Bella are:
When describing herself, as a “decorative plate mounted on the wall.”
When describing Christopher, “I find his youth jarring.”
Christopher is also a wordy role but it also includes more subdued moments in which Correia also excels extremely well. Their chemistry develops well enough over time and we become curious and a bit invested about how their relationship will unfold. This is what great casting does for a show.
The program notes include some notes from one of Adam Rapp’s interviews. He describes the play as “a play about how people use language… But… [it] is also really about loneliness.”
I sat with thoughts and feelings about The Sound Inside for a few days. There are aspects in both Christopher and Bella to which I eventually related, to my surprise. The friendship and connection that can form between two people regardless of life experience and age is something that stayed with me. The ability to recognize the loneliness in each character also moved me – living in (what some call) post pandemic times, we have come to realize how social connections are key to our existence and survival.
The program also mentions the concept of metatextuality – the “explicit or implicit references of one text to another text.” Essentially, these references unite one text with the other. There is almost no scene in which certain authors and texts are not mentioned. The audience is primed for this level of information very early on in the show. At the end, there is no way to think of what transpired on stage without thinking of some of the texts and quotes spoken by Bella and Christopher.
I think it worthy to mention director Leora Morris’ program notes as well. In them, she reminds us this play “states over and over the importance of letting an artistic work speak for itself.” This is evident in the way in which she chose to direct the play. As audience members, we almost forget that a director is involved. We know the actors on stage needed the guidance, as they have to create various locations on a simple set, but it is also evident that Morris chose to keep her direction minimal to let the acting and words speak for themselves… pun intended.
Set, lighting and prop design by Wes Babcock complement Morris’ direction quite well. Sound design by Chris Ross-Ewart works equally well in evoking the various moods in the story. The entire production team creates an intimate setting which allows for three-dimensional characters to come alive through dialogue and O’Connell and Correia’s strong performances.
A content/trigger warning:
The Sound Inside contains subject matter that may cause distress or trigger challenging emotions for some audience members. The play uses strong language and contains descriptions of sex, violence and murder.
Additional information is available on the theatre’s website.