Written by: Christopher Soden
Bella Baird is an introspective, sentient English Professor at Yale. Like many intellectuals, she finds reassurance in irony and a sense of proportion. A freshman named Christopher shows up at her office, without an appointment. He proclaims his disappointment with people, and the diminishment of interpersonal discourse. He has no desire to participate in insipid platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, texting, and so forth. He has strong opinions but he’s not wrong. We sense that Bella and he become closer because (whether or not they disagree) they respect each other. Christopher is a prodigy, though this may or may not explain their intergenerational attachment. They would seem to be cut from the same cloth, but we don’t know if sex is in the mix. One evening it feels as if they’re ready for “the next level”. It doesn’t happen, and a prolonged absence by Christopher follows.
The Sound Inside considers the intimacy between Christopher and Bella. At first she’s annoyed by his petulance and lack of manners. The rebellion of youth is certainly not front page news, but it’s more than that. She’s intrigued by Christopher, because his motives aren’t obvious. He’s not interested in being understood, or fixing anything. When he hesitates to complete the kiss, he seems crippled by indecision. When they meet for coffee, or he visits her apartment, there’s a comforting, shared erudition that nurtures their spirits. The revelation there’s another human being who empathizes. We see how each values themselves enough to live on their own terms. But it’s not about hubris. They’re quirky, and not especially angry. Christopher’s trying to be content in the world without resorting to compromise. A lesser play might have invited us to judge Bella and Christopher or dismiss them for their refusal to pander.
Playwright Adam Rapp has woven a delicate, wistful show that ushers us into a realm of velvet, nearly opaque nightfall. I confess to a feeling of dread, that was never fulfilled. His choices are inspired and not at all predictable. His two characters ingenious and original. Obviously there are dramas that wade into despair, unblinking and without apology. Birdbath, The Iceman Cometh, Sticks and Bones, Martyr. There’s an unspoken tenderness between them, an evasive grace that washes over us, without pounding upside the head. The events that follow Christopher’s unexplained departure elaborate and detail the narrative. Neither of them are apathetic or nihilistic. They engage in the random blows the world imposes, but struggles are intuitive and measured. Rapp presents this wounding, somber, whispery story as if laying out stones and amulets and herbs. Information is withheld, but we grasp in a way that foregoes linear logic.
Karen Parrish (Bella) and Parker Hill (Christopher) bring a curious, exquisite balance of gravitas and insouciance to this explication of sorrow and the sublime. Parrish gives us a nuanced portrayal of Bella, and her keen, abject affair with literature. She’s quiet but she doesn’t brood. She’s somewhat guarded, but warm. Hill conveys that sense of wonder that comes so easily in Freshman year. Undeniably brilliant, but open to the irresistible quandaries that keep things interesting. Vaguely eccentric, but defiant. The Sound Inside, spare and vivid and enigmatic as haiku, turns on the performances of Parker Hill and Karen Parrish. Their every step weightless, balletic, firm, and astonishing.