'The Sound Inside' - MTC's Own Private Metaverse

Bay Area Reporter

Tuesday June 7, 2022

'The Sound Inside' - MTC's Own Private Metaverse

Meta, the corporation, says its name is shorthand for a fully-immersive virtual world. That's a far cry from our previous definition of meta: Self-referential, as in a play about producing a play or a novel about writing a novel. (Aswim in winky cleverness, such works rarely feel immersive.)

"The Sound Inside," making its West Coast premiere in a polished Marin Theatre Company production directed by Jason Minadakis, is neither fish-meta nor foul-Meta. It's shaggy dog-meta; a mind-bending piece about a novelist writing a novel that opens with the novelist directly addressing the audience of the play.

Playwright Adam Rapp's suspenseful two-hander finds Bella Baird (Denmo Ibrahim), a novelist and Yale creative writing professor in her early 50s, falling into an unexpectedly intimate relationship with Christopher (Tyler Miclean), an impetuous undergraduate who is writing a novel of his own.

Long suffering from writer's block and more recently suffering from the same stomach cancer that killed her mother, Bella's most acclaimed fiction tells the story of a young man named Billy Baird, who "runs into a brick wall."

Denmo Ibrahim as Bella in MTC's 'The Sound Inside'
Denmo Ibrahim as Bella in MTC's 'The Sound Inside'  (Source: Kevin Berne)

The protagonist of young Christopher's novel — a Yale student named Christopher — falls into a relationship with a dangerous stranger who, in one of the play's many overt nods to literary works loved by both Christopher and Bella, has striking parallels to Raskolnikov in "Crime and Punishment."

Over a taut, intermission-less 90 minutes, the play shifts between Bella's present-day narration and scenes that initially seem to be flashbacks, but may also represent her imagination. Throughout, the professor scribbles in a notepad.

The duo's entanglement ultimately incorporates both murder and suicide, but whether these occur within the characters' novels-in-progress or the "reality" of Rapp's stage fiction is ultimately left to the viewer.

Amidst all this tricksy convolution, "The Sound Inside" nonetheless offers moments of genuine emotional immersion, thanks to Rapp's elegant, poetic language, Minadakis' directorial dreamweaving, and the quiet bravura of Ibrahim and Miclean whose palpable expressions of loss, discovery and connection remain constant across the play's shifting planes of existence.

The collaborative efforts of scenic designer Edward E. Haynes, Jr. and lighting/projection designer Mike Post further emphasize the seductive, elusive movement of the piece's multi-faceted storytelling.

Puzzling as it is, "The Sound Inside," ends up feeling less like a Rubik's Cube than a dream, one of those private metaverses, both immersive and self-reflexive, that fuel our lives from the inside out.

"The Sound Inside," through June 19. Marin Theatre Company. 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley. $25-$60. 415-388-5200. www.marintheatre.org

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.ebar.com