Friday, October 4, 2019

The Sound Inside (Broadway)


Bella (Mary-Louise Parker) is a tenured Creative Writing professor at Yale diagnosed with the same kind of cancer that killed her mother years back. Christopher (Will Hochman) is an overly enthusiastic student who comes over during office hours without appointments to discuss a novel that he is writing. The two get to know each other through discussions of Dostoevsky and some liquor, debating on grounds of literary criticism for her and on hatred of social media for him. As his novel progresses, so do their interaction and acquaintance. Still, there lingers the question as to what his motivations are for forging a close relationship with his mentor. The answer might just lie on the piece of literature he is writing or, as she would like to say, on the sound inside, whatever that means.

I wasn’t really expecting anything from this narrative. Most straight plays I’ve seen in the last few days have been similar in terms of lengthy dialogues, monologues as well as minimalist sets. The Sound Inside is not devoid of those long memorized lines, but differs in terms of presentation. After all, the material is about creative writing, so the script is vivid in its descriptions, making you feel as though you were listening to an audio book. For a frustrated writer, that is actually enjoyable.

Bella breaks the fourth wall early on, addressing the audience as if narrating her novel live. Soon, Christopher follows suit. It is a bit strange because it seems rather redundant. Why tell the audience something that they can already see or hear anyway? But since we are dealing with writers, this style of storytelling gives you a glimpse of their internal process. How do they organize their thoughts and how do they put those ideas into words? In a way, you feel like getting a free impromptu creative writing class just by watching the play.

There is also an air of mystery as to what the relationship between the two characters is. Is there a big twist towards the end that will eventually disappoint? Well, there is, but perhaps what lets you down is how they end up not having a secret connection at all other than that of student and teacher and, to some extent, could-be lovers. The plot twist comes in the form of an ironic twist of fate, some kind of reversal of fortune that refuses to make sense because it somehow feels so random.

But then again this is Bella’s story to tell after all, and the mere fact that she is narrating the story direct to you as part of the audience already gives away the ending away somehow. On a much deeper analysis, it can perhaps be argued as a case study on the randomness of life and how we are often caught unawares by it. For some people like Bella, control is important, but what the narrative teaches you is that sometimes life begins after you let go and simply succumb to the spontaneity of it all.

This show would have been boring if not for both Parker and Hochman who have impeccable comic timing. They drop their lines in such a nonchalant manner that keeps the audience laughing, like listening to seasoned stand-up comedians tackling some profound realities in life but diluting it with deadpan humor to make it more palatable to an audience that came to the theater to reflect on their everyday realities without having to cut back on entertainment value. Overall, The Sound Inside is a pleasant surprise, a funny and thought-provoking one at that.

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