Sometimes the magic is there, everything works. The play is unexpectedly great, the star has a towering moment, the director bats a thousand with imaginative staging. We don’t get to feel this all the time, so let me blabber for a minute here about Mary Louise Parker in “The Sound Inside,” written by Adam Rapp and directed by David Cromer. There’s also a newcomer in this two-hander, Will Hochman, who suddenly has a theater career at the age of 22.
No one could really tell what was going on with extra long preview time over at Studio 54. Jeffrey Richards and Lincoln Center were renting the theater from the Roundabout to put on “The Sound Inside,” a new play really no one knew anything about. Just the idea of new play these days is like a gift from the heavens. Basically, we’re awash in revivals and non-revivals like “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I mean, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is coming back again. And again.
But here’s Adam Rapp, with a resume of excellent off Broadway plays, making his debut. Here’s Mary Louise Parker, so good in “Proof” almost 20 years ago, known better for her TV work in “Weeds” and some Broadway shows that garnered good notices for her but just didn’t make it. And then you have David Cromer, acting in and directing 5 hits in a row over the last decade including the Tony winner, “The Band’s Visit.”
Who can say which ingredient was the winner? Mixed together, all the elements of “The Sound Inside” make for an evening in the theater we started to think wouldn’t happen again. Rapp told me his play draws on autobiographical material– his mother died of cancer in 1997. And so Parker’s Bella, a college professor without family but smart and funny, receives her diagnosis. And then she meets a new student, Christopher, also a loner, maybe troubled, but he has a spark. Bella and Christopher’s connection is not what you think it is. Rapp steers clear of every cliche. Their 90 minute saga, without intermission, just keeps taking unexpected and welcome turns.
Hochman reminded me of Jesse Eisenberg when he was starting out, or Alex Sharp (of “Curious Incident” fame). Super articulate and sensitive, he’s not naive, so he’s a good conversational match for Bella, who’s at a crossroads. I’m glad Christopher is there in person. But really Bella could just do the whole thing as a monologue. Parker just has her right in her palm. She’s in the zone, as they say. She gives a stunning spot on performance that will be remembered for a long time to come.
And here’s the real plot twist: this is a limited run. The Roundabout has to go back to its schedule. Parker has already signed on to star in another play this spring. She’ll co-star with David Morse in a revival of “How I Learned to Drive.” Everyone should have this dilemma! I hope she can come back in another run of “Sound Inside” after that. And she’ll have to decide which show to take to the Tony Awards. This one must absolutely be the one.
Note to Tony voters: much as with “Waverly Gallery,” and Elaine May, get in to see this before it closes.
In the audience tonight, lots of cool people including Susan Sarandon, Molly Ringwald, Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz (a former Parker boyfriend), plus BFF Kathy Najimy (who was kvelling), and “Rent” star Anthony Rapp, whose brother is the playwright. Plus Parker and Billy Crudup’s tall, good looking 15 year old son who told me he’s going to get into directing as well as acting. He’s got the genes!