Riveted by a series of electric scenes, we think we know where this story is going. A middle-aged, reclusive professor befriends a young, eccentric college student. Their charged intimacy is exhilarating. We wait expectantly—equally wary and eager—for the proverbial it to happen. As their chemistry and mutual appreciation intensifies, The Sound Inside, presented by The Coal Mine Theatre, defies our expectations in a haunting and enigmatic progression.
Speaking directly to us, Bella (Moya O’Connell) gives an overview of her life and circumstances. She tells us about her parents, her job, her cancer diagnosis. This auto-biography is charming, self-deprecating, whimsical and full of self-consciously pithy, persuasive descriptions.
Playwright Adam Rapp makes creative writing a vivid and compelling third character here. The written word is both a magnetic force and the organizing principal of the intense connection between Bella and her student, Christopher (Aidan Correia).
Their words are crisp and definitive yet so much of their personalities are betrayed by revealing quirks and mundane, telling attire. Costume designer Laura Delchiaro fashions a drab exterior for these characters, an unassuming aesthetic that subtly expresses their internal dimensions.
The fidgety way O’Connell tugs at her long, frumpy button-down sweater gives us a glimpse into her psyche. Corrieia’s near-violent bounding, his forward thrusting momentum suggests the energy of a predator yet he’s simultaneously withdrawn, gentle, disarming. His aversion to email and social media—he writes on an old manual typewriter!—is quaint and endearing. We are are as intrigued by him as Bella and his idiosyncrasies throw her own into sharp relief.
Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and the tormented anti-hero Raskolnikov loom large in their discussions. Though the circumstances of their relationship to this character and each other are rooted in academia, this concept of a sympathetic murderer forcing us to acknowledge our own amorphous morality has such a private urgency. When a devastatingly transgressive request is made, it feels like a tangible emblem of their shared obsession.
Both are writers and they eventually recite passages of each other’s prose. This demonstration of artistic appreciation is so tender, so consuming, so achingly specific and vulnerable that it surpasses the potential for any physical intimacy.
Wes Babcock’s set provides just two chairs and a large wooden desk. This imposing piece of furniture gets shifted about, each new orientation evoking a dynamic shift in understanding between the characters and us, their audience.
Babcock’s lighting and Chris Ross-Ewart’s stirring score culminate in a thrilling, transcendent segment near the end. A lifetime of experiences is conjured in a cascade of brief yet striking vignettes bursting like fireworks. In this fiercely moving spectacle, it was if I could actually feel another human being’s neurons firing out at me.
Director Leora Morris creates a deceptively simple, immersive space in which these characters can directly acknowledge our presence without ever disrupting the vibe. Their asides to us feel like a natural extension of their relationship, as if we are as familiar and essential as their own thoughts.
Though bittersweet, The Sound Inside is ultimately reassuring. I loved every second of this pensive and insightful production.