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Review: "The Sound Inside" – Two Lost Souls Adrift And Desperately Seeking

“The Sound Inside,” Pasadena Playhouse, Sept. 6 – Oct. 1, 2023

Sept. 15, 2023 | By Bruce R. Feldman

In Brief: Adam Rapp’s emotive drama overflows with poetry, haunting imagery, and deeply affecting humanity. This engrossing production is perfection. It’s at once intimate and thrilling, thanks not just to the expressive writing, but also to unfussy staging and glorious performances from the two leads.

Amy Brenneman is sublime in "The Sound Inside" (Photo: Mike Palma)

The Sound Inside begins as the lights come up on Amy Brenneman who, as Yale creative writing professor Bella Baird, addresses the audience directly. Although this is a theatrical device that might seem precious, so skilled is this remarkable actress that from the moment she starts to speak we sense that we are about to experience something exceptional, perhaps even transporting.

At first it looks as if the play is going to be an extended monologue. Much of the play is just that, with Bella describing her life in New Haven. She is 53, has never married, her parents are both dead, she has no siblings, she lives in university housing, she wrote two slim volumes of poetry and a novel that received good reviews but made no particular lasting impression.

This was 17 years ago. She has since settled into the mundane life of an academic, which Bella explains bluntly is “the equivalent of a collectable plate mounted to a wall.” Finally, she confesses that she has cancer.

A moment later we are in Bella’s office at school. Christopher Dunn (Anders Keith), a freshman student she has barely noticed in her class, shows up without an appointment. She is annoyed with this brash freshman who announces that he is writing a novel.

Amy Brenneman and Anders Keith in "The Sound Inside" (Photo: Mike Palma)

Thus begins what will become an intimate but not overtly sexual relationship, an intellectual, often funny sparring match between desperately seeking souls that quickly develops into a fateful bond.

What happens next is unexpected, shocking, unsettling. Yet, the resolution of Rapp’s tale does indeed feel inevitable, which Professor Baird earlier has told us is one of the essential qualities of superior writing.

Brenneman is nothing less than magnificent as a woman at a moment in life when the future seems terrifying and the past feels pointless. It is a careful, intelligent, fully realized characterization, transcendent in its effortless efficacy and beauty.

Anders Keith is equally impressive as her student. A recent Juilliard graduate, he achieves what only the best actors do, turning a character with insufferable views and irritating mannerisms into someone we end up caring about.

Appreciation also is due to Cameron Watson’s sensitively modulated direction. Tesshi Nakagawa’s production design is modest but feels right on the money, letting the writing and the actors shine through to maximum effect. Other technical credits are equally fine.

Over a riveting 90-minutes The Sound Inside succeeds on every level. An evocative text, two actors at the peak of their powers, a simple set, and a few lights result in the type of theatrical magic we hope to but don’t often experience.

It is the reason we go to the theater.

“The Sound Inside,” Pasadena Playhouse, 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101, 626-356-7529,


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