Coal Mine Theatre has found another gem to produce at its new location in the east end of Toronto. The Sound Inside by Adam Rapp is the type of play and masterful production you dream of seeing that does not always materialize.
The Sound Inside has a simple plot but it is so rich in allusions, literary references and erudition that move you, make you laugh, enthral you and dazzle you. It has two characters, Bella, a fiftyish professor of creative writing at Yale University and Christopher, one of her students.
Moya O’Connell gives an outstanding performance as an attractive, smart, knowledgeable professor who, on the surface, appears to have everything. She speaks directly to the audience and we may wonder (as does) Christopher about her life outside the classroom. She has never married and has no children. Is she lesbian? Does she have any friends? Is there a problem? She has not had sex for two years. She does pick up or gets picked up by a construction worker and has coitus in a hotel room that she is able to describe in some detail to us and garner many laughs. It was not terrible but we wonder how satisfying it was.
In other words, Bella is a complex person with some underlying issues. But there is one issue that is obvious and excruciating. She has cancer with a small chance of survival. What are her choices between excruciating treatment and …what?
Christopher (in an astute and marvellous portrayal by Aidan Correia) is a tall, gangling and eccentric student. He does not believe in making appointments and is not up to scratch in his use of modern instruments like a mobile phone or a computer. He balks at their use and he is just plain eccentric, we guess, but as usual in such circumstances we are wrong and not particularly perceptive. We have difficulty comprehending this complex person. How do we account for his penchant for drawing naked toddlers?
Christopher wants to be a writer and he shows promise that he will be a good one. Bella is attracted to him and invites him to dinner. A friendship develops and Bella’s attraction to him, after a few glasses of wine, is sexual but not fulfilled for many good reasons. (For one, it would spoil the play).
Christopher does write a wonderful novella and Correia tells us the plot outline. It is a fascinating book but it shows us far more than Christopher’s ability to write. The underlying problems that Bella and Christopher have, eventually, bring the two together in an unexpected way with unpredictable results.
I will stop disclosing any further details about the plot.
The structure of the play allows each character to address the audience directly, even when the two are together, and then continue interacting. The structure works well because we ger more detailed information than we could during a dialogue.
The set by Wes Babcock (who also handles Lighting and Prop Design) represents Bella’s office and her apartment. A desk and a couple of chairs is all that the play needs with a few props for the scene on her apartment. A rug is opened up where the two characters sit in her apartment drinking wine and loosening up.
I cannot heap enough praise on O’Connell and Correia for their performances and on Leora Morris for her splendid directing. There is perceptive discussion of literature and writers in the play but our attention never lags because we want to know more about Bella and Christopher. Gripping the attention of the reader or captivating the audience in the theatre are great attributes of any literary or dramatic work. The context of The Sound Inside is a riveting work in that respect and the production by Coal Mine Theatre an extraordinary success.
Note about the program. It has helpful notes about the books mentioned in the play and gives us a definition of metatextuality which every literature major will enjoy. The Sound Inside premiered at Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2018. The play was commissioned by the Lincoln Centre Theatre.
The Sound Inside by Adam Rapp, continues until May 28, 2023, at the Coal Mine Theatre, 2076 Danforth Ave. Toronto, (northwest corner of Woodbine and Danforth) www.coalminetheatre.com