The extended silence, in a completely darkened theater, that begins Adam Rapp’s mesmerizing play The Sound Inside (at Studio 54 through January 12) suggests both despair and emptiness. Bella (Mary-Louise Parker), a fifty-three-year-old Yale professor, is too acquainted with both. A teacher of creative writing and a replacement-level fiction writer, she has been given a premature appointment with her own mortality, having discovered advanced stomach cancer that may or may not be treatable. A doctor gives her a 20 percent chance of survival, but she finds out he’s being generous. Bella strikes a slightly self-mocking, unsentimental tone as she tells us about her encounter with life-threatening disease, but the blackness of the stage equates with not just her death but her life. It’s a lonely one, unshared in any meaningful way with anyone. We all die alone, but Bella has...


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