The Sound Inside – Review by Nancy Sasso Janis

The TheaterWorks Hartford production of “The Sound Inside” was filmed-(live)-to-stream. This work of playwright Adam Rapp was co-directed by the “theatremaker” Rob Ruggiero and filmmaker Pedro Bermúdez, the owner of Revisionist Films. This collaboration of the two professionals from distinct artistic realms yields a riveting streaming video that almost makes the viewer forget that they are not seated in the Harford theatre.

“Pedro and I began our journey with a singular commitment to one truth: we were filming a play – a piece of theater – not a movie,” writes Ruggiero in the virtual program. ”We set out to explore what cinematic tools would elevate and enhance that experience.”

This two-hander was produced under strict COVID-19 guidelines to ensure the safety of everyone involved with the filming of the performance on the TheaterWorks stage. Even the recording of the original music composed and performed by Billy Bivona was accomplished as safely as possible.

This is the haunting story of a middle-aged creative writing professor at Yale University, alone by choice, who meets a brilliant yet mysterious freshman student named Christopher. Narrated by magnificently poetic language mixed with some more gritty dialogue, the relationship intensifies and the engrossing story builds to a shocking conclusion. The World Premiere of “The Sound Inside,” originally commissioned by Lincoln Center Theater, was produced by Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2018. It ran on Broadway at Studio 54, and received a 2020 Outer Critics Circle Honor for Outstanding New Broadway Play.

Connecticut audiences will tune into the references to New Haven in the script. Familiar street names and the location of the New Haven Green, coupled with acknowledgement of New England winter weather, effectively remind us of the setting of this play.

Cuban-American actor Maggie Bofill (Nora in “A Doll’s House Part 2” at Long Wharf Theatre)

turns in an outstanding performance as Professor Bella Baird in her TheaterWorks Hartford debut. She begins by addressing the audience in direct, open narration and goes on to intersperse her onstage interaction with a line of quick narration. With some well-placed close-ups, the result is an intimate characterization of a wonderful role.

New York City actor and writer Ephraim Birney plays the role of Christopher Dunn, her guarded and challenging student. The actor makes the most of the mysterious complexities of his young character. Birney’s writing has been featured in several short film and play festivals in New York, and he notes in his bio that he hopes to one day be as well-read as his character.

Kate J. Cudworth, who has been with TheatreWorks Hartford for seven seasons, is the stage manager. The set design by Lawrence E. Moten III and Alejo Vietti includes university locations and virtual backgrounds that effectively set the mood of each scene. Lighting design by Amith Chandrashaker does the same. The original music by Bivona, a French Horn player, pianist, and award winning guitarist and composer from Connecticut, sneaks into the stream almost imperceptibly and builds from there to enhance the production. Costumes designed by Alejo Vietti add authenticity to the characters.

The gentle editing maintains the intimacy of the scene changes in the script. The stream is so professional that I wished I had been able to view it on a screen larger than my computer monitor in order to appreciate every pixel. The excellent audio mix/mastering was completed by Matt Berky of Massive Productions, Inc.

Streaming of the engrossing production of TheatreWorks Hartford’s “The Sound Inside” continues on demand through April 30. Some adult language and themes may not be suitable for all audiences. Tickets may be purchased at https://theaterworkshartford.secure.force.com/ticket/…

Nancy Sasso Janis, a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle, looks forward to heading to TheaterWorks Hartford for the first time when the theater reopens.

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