‘The Sound Inside’: ‘Stunning’ new play starring a ‘never better’ Mary-Louise Parker is an early Tony contender

The Tony and Emmy-winning actress Mary-Louise Parker, who last starred on Broadway in the two-character play “Heisenberg” in 2016, returned in another two-hander play “The Sound Inside,” which opened at Studio 54 on October 17. Written by Pulitzer Prize finalist Adam Rapp and directed by Tony winner David Cromer, “The Sound Inside” chronicles the nascent relationship between creative writing professor Bella Baird (Parker) and her student Christopher Dunn (Broadway newcomer Will Hochman), who bond over their passions for literature and writing and who together make a decision that will change both their lives.

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“The Sound Inside” received near-universal rave reviews from critics. In his Critic’s Pick review, Jesse Green (New York Times) calls the play “sublime” and a “flawless production,” praising almost every aspect of the show. Green lauds Parker, “never better in her 30-year stage career,” and calls Hochman “a worthy partner to Parker onstage,” which “is saying a lot.” David Cromer’s staging, Green says, is “a third character” and “a living presence in itself.”

Marilyn Stasio (Variety) similarly applauds the play as a “stunning character study.” Stasio says Parker “will take your breath away with her deeply felt and sensitively drawn portrait” and calls Hochman “endearing.” And of Cromer’s direction, Stasio writes, “not a nuance of dialogue gets away from this master manager.”

No less effusive in his praise, David Cote (Observer) deems “The Sound Inside” a “brutally beautiful fable” and a “brilliant and unsettling portrait.” Playwright Rapp “keeps us on our toes with a slippery and suggestive form of storytelling,” which Cromer elevates with his “impeccable,” “hushed, perfectly modulated staging.” “I didn’t think I could revere Mary-Louise Parker more than I did,” Cote writes, “but arch, awkward Bella is one of her sharpest, funniest, most lived-in performances ever.”

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While many more new plays will open between now and the Tony eligibility deadline in April 2020, “The Sound Inside” clearly seems like an early Tony Awards contender, and based on these reviews, the play could reap five nominations.

Though Best Play may prove the toughest category to crack in a season boasting a strong slate of new dramas, it would mark the first Tony nomination for Rapp, who finally makes his Broadway debut some two decades after he penned his first play.

This is Cromer’s first production on Broadway since winning the Tony in 2018 for “The Band’s Visit.” He could contend not only for his attentive and nuanced staging of this mysterious piece, but also for making such an intimate and suspenseful two-person play translate so well to a Broadway stage.

Of those two performers, Parker seems like a shoo-in for a nomination and is the presumptive frontrunner. She eceived career-best reviews for “The Sound Inside,” with critics saying she’s even better in this role than in her Tony-winning turn in “Proof” in 2001. Parker hasn’t been nominated since 2005 for “Reckless,” but looks very likely to return to the Tony race 15 years later.

If the Tony nominating committee appreciates “The Sound Inside” as ardently as critics, then look out for two other potential Tony nominations: Featured Actor and Lighting Design. In his Broadway debut, Hochman has the enviable task of sharing the stage with the towering Parker, one that critics say he accomplishes with aplomb. And of the design categories, lighting designer Heather Gilbert and projection designer Aaron Rhyne could share a nomination for the former’s evocatively dark and shadowy work, which received much critical compliment, and the latter’s sparse but, in this writer’s estimation, striking and indelible images.

But given that “The Sound Inside” boasts many a plot twist, its path to the Tonys could feature one, too. Even with her stellar reviews, Parker might face an unusual obstacle between her and that Actress nomination, namely, herself. Three months after closing the book on Bella Baird—“The Sound Inside” is slated to shutter in mid-January—Parker will return to Broadway in a production of Paula Vogel’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play “How I Learned to Drive,” reprising the role that she originated Off-Broadway in 1997. Depending on which role critics like Parker in more and given how much closer “Drive” opens to the eligibility deadline, voters might nominate Parker for “Drive” instead, or divide their support and miss out on nominating her for either. In an unlikely twist. Parker could also nab them both.

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