Don’t you love a good book? Do you sometimes feel like reading, but choosing a book and committing to sitting and turning pages (or scrolling screens) seems rather an undertaking, not to mention a little lonely and isolating? Everyman Theatre in Baltimore offers an excellent opportunity to experience literature in theater: The Sound Inside. Described by Director Vincent M. Lancisi as a hybrid of book and play, this production of Adam Rapp’s Tony-nominated script is akin to sitting within the pages of a novel, having it swirl around you, in the company of others, each appreciating it slightly differently.
Phrases from a press blurb, “suspenseful drama” and “literary thriller,” amalgamate in my mind to “psychological drama,” so that’s what I’m prepared to see. It’s what I do see, though not in quite the way I expected. The show is about writing, about books already written and ones yet unwritten. It’s also about an eerily charged relationship between a professor and a student, portrayed with vigor and nuance by Resident Company members Beth Hylton and Zack Powell.
Inside the theater, we’re immersed in uncredited piano music I’ll describe as “moody,” because “haunting” and “mournful” sound melodramatic. Branch-like shadows project onto a scrim and arched proscenium, beautifully crafted to resemble gothic stone architecture. It suggests a cathedral, though it’s almost certainly an interpretation of a specific Ivy League library.
The Sound Inside is esoteric — many of its literary references escape me. The snappy dialogue moves the plot and reveals the characters, who, to be frankly honest, seem more archetypal than specific. The frequent monologues create location, act as exposition, form interstitials, and offer a foreground for beautifully executed technical effects. The play is set on a college campus, often exploring collegiate topics. There’s no “everyman” character, so I suspect non-collegiate folk might find the whole piece ponderous. At certain points, I in fact am concerned that I find the piece ponderous — and then I suddenly don’t. Playwright Adam Rapp brings us to that edge, and like the snap of a rubber band, flings us away from it abruptly. The script unfolds in a format that at first seems forced, but we gradually become accustomed to it. A single line stands out as misconceived.
Beth Hylton in the role of Professor Bella Baird begins the performance alone, creating the first tension with her opening lines. It makes the audience a little squirmy because it’s unfamiliar and deliberately artificial. Several minutes of exposition occur before Zack Powell, as peculiar writing student Christopher, appears onstage, at a point when we’ve nearly relaxed into a one-woman performance. From then, tensions between the characters, the script, our expectations, and Christopher’s unexplored backstory accumulate and multiply. By the end of the show, every moment is precariously balanced on the previous one and we lean forward with breathless anticipation.
The juxtaposition of visual minimalism and lushness creates a tension of its own. Ivania Stack’s costumes are timeless basics, which still provide flexibility to acknowledge transitions from outdoors to indoors, from formal to relaxed. Set Designer Yu Shibagaki initially gives us the magnificent proscenium, a scrim, and a naked stage. When specific location sets roll out, they include idiosyncratic detail and are powered not by pneumatics but by people, which allows the rolling rooms to enter and exit at scene-appropriate speeds, in serpentine or angled paths, with dance-like grace. Some locations are suggested exclusively by the lighting creations of Adam Mendelson (who has a Rep Stage pedigree), while others include ambient atmosphere provided by Sound Designer Tosin Olufolabi. Bridging the space between set and lighting are projections designed by Kelly Colburn, one even provoking a collective gasp from the audience.
As the show concludes, we recognize its inevitability, based on early moments that we might have identified as foreshadowing, or they might have been quirky repartee. We don’t know which until the end. Director Lancisi keeps the script’s mystery, inflates the tension, and draws from Hylton and Powell complicated emotional journeys without approaching maudlinism. Moments are delicately played, allowing us to hear unsaid words, and feel unexpressed emotions, based on our own experiences and imaginations. The Sound Inside is an astonishingly fresh take that speaks to our hearts as well as our ears and eyes.
Running Time: 90 minutes, without intermission.
The Sound Inside plays through April 2, 2023, at Everyman Theatre, 315 W. Fayette St. Baltimore, MD. Purchase tickets ($29–$79) online or contact the box office by phone at 410-752-2208 (Monday through Friday, 10 AM – 4 PM; Saturday, 12 PM – 4 PM) or email [email protected].
COVID Safety: Masks are recommended, though not required. Everyman’s complete health and safety guide is here.
Accessibility: Everyman emphasizes their commitment to accessibility for all, including those with economic challenges. There are eight seats available for each performance at Pay What You Choose prices.
The Sound Inside
By Adam Rapp
Directed by Vincent M. Lancisi
Beth Hylton as Professor Bella Baird
Zack Powell as Christopher
Yu Shibagaki: Set Design
Adam Mendelson: Lighting Design
Ivania Stack: Costume Design
Tosin Olufolabi: Sound Design
Kelly Colburn: Projection Design
Lewis Shaw: Fights + Intimacy
Dante Fields: Stage Manager