THE SOUND INSIDEBy Adam Rapp
Kitchen Dog Theater
Directed by KDT Co-Artistic Director Tina Parker
Costume Designer – Tina Parker
Stage Manager – Ruth Stephenson
Set Designer – Will Turbyne
Lighting Designer – Lisa Miller
Sound Designer – Claire Carson
Props Designer – Amy Poe
Technical Director – Abby Kraemer
Covid Safety Manager – Ellen Osburn
Bella – Karen Parrish
Christopher – Parker Hill
Reviewed Performance: 11/4/2022
Reviewed by Chris Hauge, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Our narrator is Bella Lee Baird (Karen Parrish), a fifty-three-year-old tenured writing professor at Yale who creates the play in front of us. She has published two books of short stories and a critically acclaimed novel that is now on the verge of going out of print. Her world is the routines of her job and the books that cover her office and home (‘I’m a whore for first editions,’ she tells us). She is comfortably closed off from the outside world. Interrupting her safe life is an unexpected health scare and the appearance at her office of Christopher Dunn (Parker Hill), a student from her Reading Fiction for Craft class. Arriving without an appointment, Christopher bristles with opinions and splashes his energy all over the room. Bella is put off by him at first, but upon hearing that he is writing a novel, comes to admire Christopher’s spirit, and the two form a relationship on a shared love of literature and the English language.
It is this bond between two lost, kindred souls that Bella shares with us. We see this relationship’s perils and joys and follow it up with a fateful request that Bella asks of Christopher. All of this is bathed in the writing of Adam Rapp. His talent for creating realistic characters is remarkable. Director Tina Parker has taken this script and presented it with great affection and power. And her cast has taken her direction and Adam Rapp’s script and ran with it. This production is a powerful and satisfying night at the theatre.
Designer Will Turbyne’s set is a wonderful multi-level affair giving us Bella’s office and apartment, which brim with the appropriate number of books. The space opens up with the magic of Lisa Miller’s lighting design to give us a snowy campus green and a nearby restaurant. The aforementioned wall of books is also transformed by the lighting from winter coldness to images of wonder. Tina Parker’s costumes ably capture the essence of the characters.
From the moment Karen Parrish began speaking, playing with the words and the audience as if creating all of this out of whole cloth, I was hooked. It is evident that the character of Bella is an expert with language and Ms. Parrish speaks with precision and intelligence, making her formidable, yet very likable. We watch as Bella both narrates and participates in the story she is telling, and Ms. Parrish makes all of it feel authentic and believable. We like Bella because of Karen Parrish’s talent and apparent love for the character she has brought to life.
Making his professional stage debut is Parker Hill as Christopher Dunn, and he should be enormously proud of his work in this production. Mr. Hill brings nuance to a character who could have come across as an angry young man stereotype. His temperamental outbursts are delicately balanced by his quieter moments without weakening the emotional intensity that runs through Christopher like an electric current. Two moments stand out for me. One is when Christopher is reading aloud from Bella’s novel, showing in his face and with his voice the emotional impact the work had and still has on him. The other is his description of his novella as Bella is reading it. Mr. Hill’s delivery of these lines is chilling, perfectly mirroring the silent emotional response of Bella behind him. Parker Hill is someone I hope to see onstage again soon.
As Bella finishes talking to us and the spell the play has cast begins to slowly unravel, we know that we have seen something special. Kitchen Dog Theater has added another stellar production to its already impressive history. And after all this, I still don’t think I have come up with the right words to describe what this play meant to me. So, please see it and let me know what you experience. Maybe the wonder of words and communication will lead us, like Bella and Christopher, on the sometimes frightening, sometimes hopeful path to meaning. You never know until you try.
Kitchen Dog Theater
Runs thru November 20, 2022
Thursday – Saturday – 8:00 PM, Sunday – 2:00 PM
Trinity River Arts Center, 2600 N Stemmons Fwy Ste.180, Dallas, TX 75207
For tickets and information, contact the box office at 214-953-1055 or visit www.kitchendogtheater.org