“I’m sort of comfortable in the dark,” Mary-Louise Parker says. Good thing, too, considering she’s back on Broadway as Bella in Adam Rapp’s The Sound Inside. Previews begin September 14 at Studio 54 for the two-hander, co-starring Will Hochman and directed by Tony winner David Cromer (The Band’s Visit). But even fans of the Parker’s stage work—and it’s worth noting that the only play the Tony winner has done that comes close to light-hearted is Prelude to a Kiss, obliquely about the AIDS crisis—are not prepared for her work here.
“I like being reminded that I’m not always the best judge of certain things, that I can do things that maybe I think I can’t,” Parker says. And after repeatedly turning the show down for its Williamstown Theatre Festival premiere, she finally acquiesced to the extent that she thought of herself as “the placeholder,” someone to workshop it before the real lead came along. But then “as soon as I started reading it aloud, I was like, ‘Oh, wow.’ There she was.”
An emotionally organized woman who maintains a strict level of calm and order around herself, Bella is a literature professor who has no false illusions about her talent, her attractiveness, or what she has to offer the world: very little, in her icy estimation. But a new student forces her to reconsider what she thought she knew, even as their relationship grows alarmingly intense. Most of which the audience is told by Bella herself, directly addressing us.
“Direct address is generally not where I am comfortable,” Parker says, crediting Cromer for allowing her the room to ignore the worry that audiences would tire of her. “You have to keep it taut, this play. And it should be a little scary, as an experience. She’s not overburdened with the desire to make people enjoy her, let’s say.”
Luckily Parker is joined again by Hochman, also reprising his Williamstown role. And though their characters’ relationship tends to the ominous, Parker raves about him and their rapport.
“He was so earnest and game and humble. The humility was pretty off the charts, actually,” she says. “And I just loved working with him. It’s a daunting ride, but when an audience connects to a piece of theatre, like with Proof or How I Learned to Drive—you can feel the plays where they all go with it together.”
Now theatregoers can add The Sound Inside to that list.