The Sound Inside at 4th Wall: A Mystery That Challenges the Theatrical Form

Director Lorrel Manning in rehearsal for The Sound Inside at 4th Wall Theatre Company.
Director Lorrel Manning in rehearsal for The Sound Inside at 4th Wall Theatre Company. Photo by Gabriella Nissen

The well-documented loneliness of a writer's life is brought into even sharper focus with Adam Rapp's The Sound Inside, about to make its Houston premiere at 4th Wall Theatre Company.

Recipient of six Tony award nominations, the 90-minute one-act tells the story of Bella Baird, a writing professor and novelist who hasn't had anything published in years. Living in isolation, she begins a relationship with a student who arrives in a package both quirky and promising.

Award-winning Lorrel Manning, a playwright/actor/director/filmmaker and longtime friend of Kim Tobin-Lehl, co-founder of 4th Wall Theatre Company, is in town from New York City to direct. He said Tobin-Lehl, who had worked with him before, had talked about him coming in to direct something at 4th Wall and the time was finally right.

Tobin-Lehl plays the Bella role and Christian Tannous, making his debut at 4th Wall, plays Christopher, the promising student.

"Kim had given me a few plays to read; I just responded to this one," Manning said. "On one level, creatively, it challenges the theatrical form and I also like the idea of a novel/novella coming to life on stage. I've got a film background so I like that kind of stuff. It's not necessarily a straight forward story that we're telling here. I like the character."

"I can relate a lot to Bella because she is very intelligent and because she is a writer which I am too. There’s something about the loneliness of a writer that appeals to me and that I related to with her. I wanted to do something different because the last thing I directed with our theater company was a really big play with 15 actors and I want to do something smaller.

"It was more challenging to do something quieter."

Manning, who is also a college professor (Sarah Lawrence where he teaches screen writing directing and acting for film) says he works in a collaborative atmosphere with theater actors. "My job is to create an atmosphere in which they feel comfortable enough to try things."

While he has the final say on staging and and other aspects of a production, he said he welcomes ideas from the actors and crew he works with. "I don't care where the idea comes from."

In this play, a lot of the time is spent addressing the audience, both said. "She's telling a story and she's bringing her into her world," Manning explained.

"I'm not asking you to respond to me. I'm just direct addressing," Tobin-Lehl said. "I will at times break the dialog to give you narration."

Both say the play is very difficult to talk about without ruining its surprises for someone who hasn't seen it.
"It's kind of a mystery that will leave you with a lot of questions," Manning said. "It's so beautiful on the page and it leaves you with a lot of room for imagination and creativity."

Tobin-Lehl, who stays on stage throughout the play, said she likes playwright Rapp's work because "he deals with the darker sides of humanity too. He deals with a lot of what provokes us in our deepest, scarier dark parts of our psyche that we don't always talk about.

"It's a tantalizing, exciting mystery," Tobin-Lehl said. "One that will leave you with a lot of questions," Manning added. "What did I just see? Was it this or was it that?"

"It's truly a love letter to writing and literature," Tobin-Lehl said.

Performances are scheduled for January 19 through February 11 at 7:30 p.m.  Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays at Spring Street Studios, Studio 101. For more information call 832-767-4991 or visit $17-$53.
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