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“The Sound Inside”

TheaterWorks Hartford

TheaterWorks Hartford is currently presenting a video stream of Adam Rapp’s gripping play, “The Sound Inside,” in a powerful and disturbing production.  As co-directed brilliantly by Rob Ruggiero and Pedro Bermudez, this stunning show leads a viewer slowly into the lives of its two characters, building with suspense and surprise.  “The Sound Inside” is also blessed with perfect leads, Maggie Bofill and Ephraim Birney, as, respectively, a Yale English professor and a troubled young student.  Since a great deal of this play’s effectiveness lies in the details of these characters’ growing relationship, I would be loath to reveal too much of the plot.  “The Sound Inside,” as presented by TheaterWorks, is a devastating and deeply involving show that really deserves to be seen.

“The Sound Inside” opens with Maggie Bofill, as Yale professor Bella Baird, speaking directly to the camera and revealing many personal and, ultimately, life-threatening things about herself.  In a way, the viewer takes the play’s journey with her and, when the second character is introduced in the show, we see him through her eyes.  If Bella Baird is a fascinating person in the play, the same could be said of Ephraim Birney’s role of student Christopher Dunn.  In the show, it is established that Bella is teaching a creative writing course at Yale and Christopher is one of her pupils who comes to see her privately during her office hours.  The whole play is truly just these two people, but one gets drawn into their lives and hangs on their every word and interaction.

I was not fortunate enough to see “The Sound Inside” when it ran on Broadway, but Maggie Bofill and Ephraim Birney are so good that one almost can’t picture anyone else taking on these roles.  Indeed, these excellent actors really make us believe and feel that they truly are these characters.  The part of the writing professor, Bella, is the larger part in the play and Bofill is pretty astouding in the role.  One becomes attached to her life from the opening moments of the show and that intensity only grows as the play travels through its riveting ninety minute running time.  This actress makes the viewer care deeply about this slightly unorthodox professor and that empathy for the character can hold one spellbound.

But if Bella Baird is a somewhat unusual person in the play, Ephraim Birney’s Christopher Dunn is pretty much off the rails.  Birney matches his costar sensationally, making his part of a slightly frightening and deeply troubled student just as fascinating and penetrating.  These characters are constantly bumping heads throughout the show and the two actors take on each of their roles with a vengeance, really pushing the boundaries of the play almost beyond its limits.  Bofill and Birney are both superb performers and they wear these respective parts of professor and student like a second skin.

In addition to the fantastic acting, “The Sound Inside” is wonderfully directed and filmed, mostly in very dark and claustrophobic spaces.  But this sense of being trapped with the people in this play works terrifically well, making this show somewhat of a journey down a rabbit hole where anything can (and does) happen.  The excellent set design is by Lawrence E. Moten III and the appropriate and character-defining costumes are courtesy of Alejo Vietti.  Everything has been lit brilliantly by lighting designer Amith Chandrashaker and the hypnotic music composed by Billy Bivona only adds to the extreme impact of this production.

Admittedly, “The Sound Inside” is not really a show for everyone: a good deal of the subjects and issues addressed in the play are extremely volatile and nerve wracking and this show does build to a shocking (as well as cathartic) conclusion.  But, if one can handle disturbing subject matter, “The Sound Inside,” as fantastically presented by TheaterWorks Hartford, is most highly recommended.  The vice-like grip that this show has on a viewer is really awe-inspiring and, thanks to co-directors Rob Ruggiero and Pedro Bermudez and their ideal leads, “The Sound Inside” is a theatrical experience that will stay with you long after the show has concluded.

“The Sound Inside” will be streamed at home until April 30, 2021. For more information and tickets to stream the show, please visit www.theaterworkshartford.org.

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