"The Sound Inside" starts in darkness. All we hear is Mary-Louise Parker's distinctive voice, as she narrates her character's story: "A middle-aged professor of undergraduate creative writing at a prestigious Ivy League University stands before an audience of strangers. She can’t quite see them but they’re out there. She can feel them — they’re as certain as old trees. Gently creaking in the heavy autumn air."
A sharp white spotlight targets her and we see that this lonely Yale professor — Bella Lee Baird — has something shining in her hands. Is it a knife? There's a second of dread. No. It's a pen. And she's using it to write the story she's telling us, of a devastating medical diagnosis and a murky relationship she has with one of her freshmen writing students.
That student is Christopher Dunn (Will Hochman), an entitled kid — also lonely — who wants to be a novelist. At first, the professor is put off by his disrespect when, in a fit of rage, he spits on her floor. But then every day, he comes to her office and, like Scheherazade in the Arabian Nights, tells her a bit about the plot of his book, which follows a Yale student who befriends an unscrupulous stranger. It's....creepy. And riveting. There's the threat of violence. The main character is named Christopher. Is it real? She wants to hear more and so do we.
But there are other ominous signs. Their relationship seems almost — romantic. They discuss Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment," which is, yes, about a student who kills an unscrupulous stranger. And Christopher and Bella are kind of strangers, as he points out. And she doesn't seem all that scrupulous. The signals fairly scream danger.
But danger to whom? And is it physical or something else? Adam Rapp's play, which debuted at Williamstown Theater Festival last year to raves, works well as a thriller. Nothing goes as you might expect it to.
Yet like a novel, all these threats are created out of words. There is no physical menace, very little action, and an enormous sense of distance. Bella is constantly thinking out loud and scratching away on her notepad, but we are not in her head, exactly. (Parker's precision and lack of sentimentality makes this performance compelling instead of twee.) Or if we are in her head, her recounting of her experience is so divorced from the actual pain of it that it doesn't seem as if she feels anything.
This production is helmed by a gifted director David Cromer, whose stark, disciplined vision keeps his two characters materializing out of the blackness. The sets do that, too — ghostly trees appear in one corner, projections of writing in another. At one point, the set of a kitchen receding into the blackness gives a feeling of vertigo.
And there's another surprise. "The Sound Inside" has the feeling of a play with a Big Idea or a Moral Lesson. But what is it? We know both narrators are unreliable and unlikable; we know there is a true tragedy looming. But afterwards, all of that talking just feels empty. But that, perhaps, is not an accident. In the end, this is not a traditional thriller, but a character study. And these two characters use words as walls, trying to keep loneliness and real life at bay. It doesn't work. It starts in darkness — and ends there, too.
" " by Adam Rapp, directed by David Cromer at Studio 54.
Review: 'Little Shop of Horrors' Is Perfectly Creepy — and Surprisingly Deep
Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's "Little Shop of Horrors" is a creepy, campy, cult favorite, usually played for broad laughs. Of course it is. It's about a giant, carnivorous plant that manipulates a young man into killing people so it can eat them. It's ridiculous.
Except — maybe it's not. In this delightful and yet more serious production, performed upstairs at the small Westside Theatre, the show is more clearly a metaphor for the rapacious greed for celebrity and money, and what people will do to get them.
But don't worry. Christian Borle's sadistic dentist is still a pretty campy bad guy.
Directed by Michael Mayer, this Little Shop feels fresh and timely. It's still very funny — the plant is played by an ever-growing series of fantastic puppets with terrifying teeth — and really, really fun. But it also has a vulnerable heart. Tammy Blanchard is astonishing as Audrey. When she sings about wanting "somewhere that's green" we see a woman who's been beaten down by life, and yet still has room for a little hope.
And Jonathan Groff's Seymour is not a bumbling nerd, but a grateful orphan with a green thumb who's working hard to make make something of himself — and to win the love of Audrey.
One warning: some under- 10-year-olds in the audience were begging to go home at intermission. This Little Shop of Horrors is not a cartoon — it has a kind of earnestness that makes it genuinely scary. "Horror" is in its name, after all.
But grownups enjoy it. This is a perfect production. I can't imagine one better.
" " with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken, directed by Michael Mayer, at the Westside Theatre Upstairs through January 19.
Homeless, But Beloved by Neighbors — an Immigrant Killed on the Streets Is Remembered
A public memorial service was held Friday for the homeless men who were killed on the streets of Chinatown earlier this month — including Chuen Kwok, an 83-year-old immigrant from Hong Kong who community members remember as kind and neighborly.
Kwok had been homeless for only the last few years, but he had been a fixture in Chinatown for decades before that. A Chinatown resident who identified herself as Auntie Yu met him 35 years ago over a game of mahjong.
After 35 years of friendship, he was like a relative to her, she said.
When she met him, Kwok was selling fish on the street and living with a woman in a Houston Street apartment. After the woman died around 20 years ago, he spent some time homeless and “wandering” in Brooklyn before a young Chinese man gave him restaurant work and helped him find a place to stay.
By a few years ago, he was once again homeless and out of work. He spent time in The Bowery Mission on Lafayette Street, as recently as this year.
For the past few months, according to Yu, Kwok slept in a small alcove in front of a storefront on Bowery Street, just steps from where Yu sold clothing on the sidewalk.
He would “go to the Chinese restaurant and read newspaper and drink some wine or alcohol, but [he wasn’t an] alcoholic,” Yu said through a translator, Luzy Tsui. He would “just drink some.”
A Chinatown resident who would only identify herself as Auntie Chan remembers that Kwok wouldn’t ask for money, but that the community looked out for him anyway.
“Even if he was sleeping, people would give him money,” Chan said through a translator, Luzy Tsui. “And then people would check if he was still alive.”
Choi Lin, another Chinatown resident, saw Kwok just weeks before he died. She asked him if he needed money, but he patted his pocket to tell her he had enough. He told Lin that he would be moving soon, so that he didn’t disrupt stores on the busy Bowery Street block.
But on the night of Oct. 5, Kwok was in his alcove when he became one of four victims killed while sleeping on the streets of Chinatown.
Because Kwok had told her he would move, Lin wasn’t sure whether it was him until she saw his picture in the press.
“She broke down in tears,” Tsui said.
A Reconfigured MoMA Showcases Hidden Gems From Its Collection
After five months and $450 million in renovations, the Museum of Modern Art will officially re-open to the public next week.
The remodeled MoMA includes about a third more gallery and exhibition space, but it isn't just about being bigger: its curators have entirely reworked how the museum presents its collection. The museum has long been known for showcasing modern art primarily through American and European artists, as if, for example, it unfolded in a direct lineage from Cubism to Surrealism to Abstract Expressionism. Now, as MoMA director Glenn Lowry told WNYC's Sean Carlson, the museum is trying to spark conversations between different pieces representing artistic movements and traditions from across the world, featuring pieces the museum has acquired over the years that were rarely or never displayed.
"A lot of what we've tried to do is collapse what had become two museums: the highly refined museum that was on display, and the much more nuanced and complicated museum that was in the storage rooms," Lowry said.
You can hear the full conversation by clicking "Listen."
MoMA re-opens on Monday, Oct. 21, 2019.