Audiences who don’t mind leaving a theater a bit unsettled would do well to check out the West Coast premiere of Adam Rapp’s The Sound Inside at Mill Valley’s Marin Theatre Company.The Jasson Minadakis-directed show runs through June 19.
The lights come up on a solitary female figure. “A middle-aged professor of undergraduate creative writing at a prestigious Ivy League university stands before an audience of strangers. She can’t quite see them, but they’re out there.” Those words are spoken by Bella Baird (Denmo Ibrahim) as she begins to narrate her own story. Her story contains chapters on creative stagnation, a health crisis, and most importantly, her complex relationship with a student.
That student, Christopher Nunn (Tyler Miclean), seems to revel in solitude, a trait that Bella recognizes in herself and may be what oddly draws them together. What starts as a traditional teacher/student relationship eventually veers off into unchartered, very dark territory.
Some may find the very presentational delivery of the narrative off-putting, but I found it invigorating. Direct-address monologues and frequent third-person narration give the show an almost confessional feel, and the sense that one is hearing the pages of a diary come to life hangs thick in the air.
Ibrahim and Miclean are a perfect match in the roles. It’s (mostly) Bella’s story to tell, and Ibrahim tells it well. She threads the needle that allows the audience to understand why Bella makes some of the really bad choices she makes but not to excuse them. But does Bella excuse herself? It’s a richly-layered performance.
Miclean’s performance is the more outwardly dynamic of the two, giving the show a level of unpredictability that is key to its success. There’s a tautness to the performance that adds a growing level of discomfort with the character as the story progresses, particularly when we learn elements of the novel Christopher is writing. That discomfort is not assuaged by the show’s ambiguous ending.
Some may be frustrated by the end of The Sound Inside’s 90 intermission-less minutes that what is in essence a mystery ends unsolved. I appreciate scripts that go in unexpected directions where everything isn’t tied neatly up at the end. I appreciate directors and casts talented and daring enough to bring that opaqueness to the stage.
Sometimes it’s not the destination. It’s the journey.
‘The Sound Inside’ runs Tues-Sun through June 19 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave, Mill Valley. Tues-Sat, 7:30pm; Sat & Sun, 2pm. $10-$60. Masks, proof of COVID vaccination, and ID required. 415.388.5208. marintheatre.org