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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

The Sound Inside (MTC) - 90 minutes without interval

Two loners connect over literature.

One is a 53-year-old Yale professor of creative writing. The other is a freshman who is engaged by her lectures.

They bond over Dostoevsky.

Photos by Jeff Busby

Bella Baird is a single woman without children.

Her father passed away from a heart attack at age 62 and her mum died a horrible death from stomach cancer when just 54.

Seventeen years ago Baird published a 256-page novel, which was praised by some, but not others. Her output has also included a couple of books containing short stories.

University rules necessitate making appointments via email to see the professor, but this particular freshman, Christopher Dunn, despises the formal strictures.

One day he just confronts the teacher and asks whether he can see her.

He makes quite the impression, but not all of it favourable.

Still, she is engaged when he tells her he is writing a book and that he prefers the old-fashioned way of doing things – pen, paper, typewriter etc.

She asks him about his novel and upon questioning, he reveals what it is about and how far he has gotten. It is still early days.

They meet up again the following day and thereafter. The bond between them grows. They have an unmistakable connection and she lets down her guard.

But although previously healthy, doubling over in pain one day has led to a dreadful diagnosis.

She is riddled with cancer.

Two excellent performances breathe life into American playwright Adam Rapp’s script, which is big on exposition.

Detail is the mainstay of the two characters that are wedded to intellectual rigour.

Catherine McClements is considered, reflective and practical as Baird. She brings authenticity to the role.

Shiv Palekar is brash and headstrong as Dunn. Words pour from his mouth.

I appreciated the fact that the story arc took an unexpected turn.

The simple staging – a single streetlight and a rotating stage onto which the occasion prop appears – suits the narrative.

This play doesn’t need clutter, just honesty between two people decades apart in age who are an intellectual match.

Snow is a motif, much of which descends on stage for an elongated period in the second half.

The Sound Inside has been thoughtfully directed by Sarah Goodes.

Nominated for six Tony Awards, including for Best Play, it is on at Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne until 2nd July, 2022.


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