by Jess Hoffman
It’s hard to know what to make of The Sound Inside. The two-person show, currently playing at Cohoes Music Hall, is a bold and questionable choice for Creative License Theater Collective. The Sound Inside is a simple story about a lonely professor with cancer who forms a friendship with a talented young student, told in a strange format that doesn’t suit itself.
Colleen Lovett plays Bella Lee Baird, an anti-social creative writing professor at a prestigious college. The play begins with a self-referential monologue in which Professor Baird describes herself as she stands in front of the audience. From the first moment the audience sees her until the lights go down, Lovett takes on the role of the staunch and serious yet vulnerable professor with layers of nuance that no amount of monologuing can describe. Russell Roberts plays the quirky and talented young student, Christopher, equally well. Roberts brings to his character a combined depth of thought and complete lack of worldly wisdom that is so typical of bright young creative types. While both actors play their respective characters excellently, they are at their best when they interact with one another.
Unfortunately The Sound Inside calls for almost nonstop monologuing with occasional moments of dramatic action. When the audience is treated to a scene that more resembles an actual play than a 90-minute monologue, the action between the two characters is often interrupted by one of them turning toward the audience and continuing the story in the form of a monologue. The Sound Inside is eloquently written with artful and slightly highfalutin prose that fits well in a story about two talented (if slightly pretentious) writers; and both actors did their best to deliver their monologues evocatively and engagingly. Yet I can’t say that the style of constant narration occasionally interrupted by an actual scene does anything to serve the story or the play. Instead it creates a distance between the audience and the action that prevents the audience from ever becoming fully immersed in the story being told. This style might serve a story that deals with subjective realities, unreliable narrators, or some sort of magical realism, but The Sound Inside never truly dives into any of these themes. Instead, The Sound Inside is a poignant story about two people with a deep and enigmatic friendship. But it’s told to the audience by the characters rather than playing out in front of them in a way that one might expect from a work of drama.
I’ve heard more creative writing professors than I can count repeat the maxim “show don’t tell,” so the fact that this play about a creative writing professor is all telling and little showing is entirely baffling to me. There is a moment in the beginning of the play where Bella Baird refers to herself as a “creative writing hypocrite” and admits to the audience that she is currently committing many of the sins that a good creative writing professor warns students not to do. It is almost as if playwright Adam Rapp knew what poor writing choices he was making and decided to run with them anyway.
It is a testament to the cast and crew that this production comes together at all despite the questionable choices of its playwright. Lovett and Roberts do their utmost to keep the audience engaged as they tell their story. There are certainly some moments in which the delivery of their narration is both riveting and heartbreaking. Lovett’s “listen to the sound inside” monologue is particularly well-done. And with the help of simple but very effective lighting (designed by Maya Pomazal-Flanders) and sounds (designed by Aaron Holbritter), The Sound Inside is at least evocative even when it isn’t engrossing. The costumes and set, both designed by Casey Polomaine are similarly well done. The set in particular is expertly separated into three distinct settings (Professor Baird’s office, Professor Baird’s living room, and a café table) without the stage becoming cluttered. All in all, the cast and crew of The Sound Inside do an excellent job with a challenging script.
Again, it’s hard to know what to make of The Sound Inside, and whether or not I can recommend this show depends on what sort of theatergoer you are. Personally, I must say that if I have a desire to spend 90 minutes of my evening having someone tell me a story rather than act it out, I’m much more inclined to stay home and listen to an audiobook than to take a trip to the theater. Despite the excellent cast and crew, The Sound Inside never really felt like a fully formed theatrical experience. However, for those who do not share my sensibilities and wish to experience an evocative, thoughtful, and eloquent hour and a half of monologuing, The Sound Inside will be thoroughly enjoyable.
Creative License presents The Sound Inside by Adam Rapp, directed by Aaron Holbritter, runs from November 17-26, 2023, at the Cohoes Music Hall, 58 Remsen Street in Cohoes, NY. Produced by Casey Polomaine. Cast: Colleen Lovett as Bella and Russell Roberts as Christopher. Run crew: Jawica Carpentier. Lighting design by Maya Pomazal-Flanders. Set design and costume design by Casey Polomaine. Sound design by Aaron Holbritter.
Performance dates are Friday-Sunday. Friday, and Saturday curtains are at 7:30pm and Sundays are matinees only at 2:00 pm. Tickets are $38 for adults and $18 for students 18 and under. Runs approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. Contains frank discussions of suicide. Recommended for ages 13+. Tickets are available online at https://www.thecohoesmusichall.org/events/thesoundinside, by phone at 518-434-0776, or at the door for any performance.