Boca Stage completes 2021-22 season with performance of intricate, two-person drama, ‘The Sound Inside’

Most folks who know Boca Stage Artistic Director Keith Garsson are aware of his penchant for producing complex, slightly skewed theatrical pieces.

The troupe’s final performance of the 2021-22 season is a thought-provoking drama called The Sound Inside. Even the title of Adam Rapp’s dark, twisty and unsettling piece that swerves sharply around the obvious and rattles outcomes that should be no-brainers is a puzzle. What is the sound inside? Is it pleasant or cacophonous? Is it the equivalent of what Zen followers would call ‘the sound of one hand clapping?”

Kim Ostrenko and Jordan Armstrong in The Sound Inside, now at Boca Stage in Boca Raton. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)

The Sound Inside envelops its characters in a backsplash of darkness where trusts are earned and lost, expectations are manipulated, and fate rises up to laugh at the absurdity of rational thought. The only certainties are uncertainties.

The play’s two and only artists must be literarily adept and linguistically agile. Capable actors Kim Ostrenko and Jordan Armstrong more than fill that bill in this 85-minute performance.

Kim Ostrenko and Jordan Armstrong in The Sound Inside, now at Boca Stage in Boca Raton. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)

“The characters in this play each have their own secrets, and their own desires,” said Garsson, who directs the season finale. “As the plot unspools, you will be pulled deeply into their minds’ landscapes, and you will be guessing until the end.”

The unnerving action opens with Ostrenko standing in the glare of a spotlight on the otherwise-darkened Sol Theatre stage. She portrays Bella Baird, a 50-ish creative writing professor at Yale who breaks the fourth wall by offering the audience what seems to be a tedious and grim autobiographical monologue. 

Kim Ostrenko and Jordan Armstrong in The Sound Inside, now at Boca Stage in Boca Raton. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)

The wordy start seems to do little more than establish Bella as a knowledgeable educator who can regurgitate a long roster of novelists. More important, she has just received a diagnosis of stage 2 cancer. Addressing the audience directly as if reading a novel-in-progress aloud, she describes her unorthodox treatment options – all of which are grim. 

She eventually becomes involved with Christopher Dunn (Armstrong), a freshman in a writing course she teaches.

Kim Ostrenko and Jordan Armstrong in The Sound Inside, now at Boca Stage in Boca Raton. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)

As their lives, and the stories they tell about themselves, become intertwined in unpredictable ways, Bella learns of Dunn’s unorthodox way of life. He shows up in her office without ever making an appointment, which she requires. He chooses to ignore the use of email; he wears a jacket that doesn’t provide sufficient warmth for winter in New Haven, and he types on a Smith Corona typewriter rather than a computer. 

Take note of the coat. It is critical to the ending.

Their lives begin moving on separate paths, but they remain quietly in touch. Bella’s cancer is worsening, and Christopher is writing a novel.

Kim Ostrenko and Jordan Armstrong in The Sound Inside, now at Boca Stage in Boca Raton. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)

Both situations intersect at the same time. He shows up at her office with a black manuscript box with finished text inside. She has decided that self-inflicted death using a three-shot suicide “cocktail” will head off a more painful, imminent demise.

But she needs a helper to manage the hypos – and approaches Christopher to do it. Tension in the small theater becomes more palpable as the savvy actors exude anxiety, emotion and gut-wrenching unease as anticipated conclusions approach.

But the expected doesn’t happen, and reality becomes the understudy to fate. The production slides to an ultimate ending unlike what most in the crowded gallery expect.

While one might call The Sound Inside a mystery since it ends with several unanswered questions, it’s not an Agatha Christie-style story. It’s not a who-dun it; rather, a what-happened. Death takes place, but not the way the audience expects. This isn’t a love story, though affection is clearly present. Self-perception is more clearly their shared outcome.

There is no chance for needed comic relief, though Bella’s ludicrous recreation of how she lost her virginity would be humorous if not so dispassionate.

In addition to director Garsson, the stage crew deserves plaudits for dramatic lighting (led by Tom Shorrock) and sound (David Hart in charge) that intensifies the action and directs the audience’s gaze to appropriate spots. 

The actors’ abilities shine through a plot maze that is often hard to unscramble. Multiple Carbonell winner Ostrenko’s acting credits fill a single-spaced, half page of the program book. This writer will always recall her memorable performance as the distraught mother in August: Osage County at Florida Atlantic University.

Armstrong is also a talented presence whose stubborn demeanor in The Sound Inside recalls his role as the by-the-book Civil War Lt. Kelly in Boca Stage’s recent comedy, Ben Butler.

The Boca Stage production of The Sound Inside runs through May 22 at the Sol Theatre, 3333 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Tickets are on sale for $45, and $50 for Sunday matinees. Tickets are available at www.bocastage.net or by calling 561-447-8829.

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