With the picturesque dramatics of fall nearing, the time has been ripe for a substantive production that can take audiences on a gripping ride. When it comes to stimulating the mind with meaningful prose and their accompanying imagery, there is no better play than Adam Rapp’s critically acclaimed The Sound Inside, nor is there a more superior theatre to host it than the Tony Award-winning Pasadena Playhouse (through Oct. 1st).
SoCal theatregoers will remember one of the more recent, professionally staged mysteries to make its way through the Southland — the haunting 2:22 – A Ghost Story — from late last year. The Sound Inside will keep crowds similarly guessing up until its final minute, though it also promises to be a more intimate escape, with only two actors charged with leading and playing into the audience’s imagination.
Directed by Cameron Watson, the duo tasked with the feat of building the premise’s tension over 90 uninterrupted minutes include Amy Brenneman (Daylight, Judging Amy) who portrays Yale writing professor Bella Baird, along with 2022 Juilliard graduate and South Pasadena local Anders Keith who plays her inscrutable student Christopher.
The Pulitzer-Prize finalist, and six-time Tony-nominated play ominously brings together an ordinary teacher and her student insofar both wonder if they can trust one another as questions arise, and slowly trickled in answers beget new questions, which aid in a crescendo of suspense that urgently beckons a satisfying resolve.
More than five years since debuting in Williamstown, Mass., followed by a run on Broadway at the famed Studio 54 — which saw Mary Louise-Parker’s depiction of Professor Baird earn a Tony for Best Actress — The Sound Inside intends to resonate just as favorably during its L.A. premiere.
To further elaborate on what attendees can expect when they experience The Sound Inside, newcomer Keith, 23, who has additionally scored the role of David Crane (nephew to Dr. Frasier Crane) in the Kelsey Grammer-led reboot of Frasier on Paramount+ starting Oct. 12th, spent some time with LAexcites discussing his character, experience working with Brenneman, Watson, and more.
Congratulations on graduating from Juilliard and already scoring a major TV show and live performance gig! As you get started on your professional journey, what would you say was your main driving force for becoming an actor?
Keith: When I was a 10-year-old, my grandparents wrote a play for me to be in. They lived in Granite Falls, Washington, which is a little rural town. We rehearsed the play in a barn and performed it for the Snohomish County Senior Center. It may have been small time, but it felt big to me back then, and ever since, I’ve had the bug, so to speak.
I took an [acting] break for a few years, and when high school started, I thought, ‘I’m not really good at this school thing.’ Some teachers would be motivating and exciting, but it was a case-by-case basis. If the teacher was checked out, I would be as well. That’s when I knew school, in the traditional sense, wasn’t for me. And I thought if I go to college, I should go with something, and so I kept [acting], and did musical theatre as you could get more people to do those than plays.
Then, in my senior year of high school, on my parents’ suggestion, I auditioned for Juilliard. Once again, my grandfather helped me with two Shakespeare pieces even though I didn’t know anything about Shakespeare at the time. I prepared for that audition, and with suggestions from other acting teachers, I miraculously got in. So, I have to thank my grandparents and the fact that I wasn’t good at anything else [laughs].
It’s funny, the two roles I’ve played out of college — this and [Frasier] — are both Ivy League freshman, one Yale and one Harvard [laughs]. It’s humorous because I wouldn’t have gotten into either with the grades I had in high school.
What’s it like knowing that you’ll soon officially take the stage at the Pasadena Playhouse in your hometown? Does it feel like a full-circle moment?
Keith: It really does! I saw plays there, and just saw A Little Night Music; it’s the place to go see professional, regional theatre. It’s the state theatre and has always held a special place in my heart not just for the shows they do, but the building itself which is such a unique and classic space. The inside isn’t that dissimilar from a Broadway house, but the outside is such Southern California, mission-style architecture. I used to hang out around there and do theatre at a company called Theatre 360, which used to be in the basement of a church in Pasadena Memorial Park.
It’s crazy; my agent said, ‘I don’t know if you’d be interested but there is an audition for the Pasadena Playhouse.’ I immediately said I was ‘extremely interested.’ I had a celebratory trip planned, since it’s been a good year, and the trip conflicted. But before I even got a callback, I moved the trip up. And it all worked out.
Tell us about your character, Christopher Dunn, in this play. What are a few words you’d use to describe Dunn, and what has been your process in getting into your character’s headspace?
Keith: Well, I’ll start with not my words. Yesterday, [in reference to the character], Amy said, ‘mad genius.’ That’s nice, but it’s hard to play yourself as a mad genius, because one has to be careful with the words and judgements they say around their characters, positive or negative. You don’t want your character to be full of themselves or fully resenting who they are and their actions in the play.
I’d hesitate to say [mad genius], but I’d say he’s very bright, and possesses both madness and genius, but ultimately I think Dunn’s track in this story illustrates some of the fallacy and difficulty in taking on that life. He does rant on certain subjects early in the play about how he drinks coffee but doesn’t go to the campus cafés. Metaphorically and unmetaphorically, he doesn’t drink the Kool-Aid, and he doesn’t subscribe to the average intellectual vibe.
He also rejects society in some ways and is greatly infatuated with the character Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment and is a little obsessed with Dostoevsky who is a mad genius. Like any college student, he hasn’t become yet, so he can only try to be, and in trying, he loses himself a little bit. He’s a good kid, but it doesn’t seem like he has a lot of support or friends.
Has rehearsal changed your approach to the character, at least compared to how you initially visualized him after reading Adam Rapp’s words on the page? Why or why not?
Keith: Good question. Ultimately, yes and no. We’ll start with the no, because when I first read the play, I hesitated to say I am this character, but I will say that the way Christopher Dunn puts his thoughts into words very much resonated with the way I speak and think. So, there was an initial connection where I thought I fit this. Also, on the no — it hasn’t changed much. I intentionally went into it not assuming what I knew happened offstage or what happens at the end. I had to be open to interpretation.
I have great respect for actors who make their roles their own and whose performances are simply captured and not molded in any way, but I also respect and understand the input and value of a director. So, I came in with very few preconceived notions about [the character], other than opinions I might feel toward myself. In that regard, it hasn’t changed, and we fleshed it out.
And yes — because what has come out from this somewhat, lovable quirky kid is a real shadow and that’s important to [the play], and hopefully what you’ll see if you attend the show.
With this being only a two-person show, do you feel extra pressure in terms of earning and maintaining audience engagement for 90 minutes?
Keith: That’s the way they describe oral surgery; there’s no pain, you’ll only feel pressure [laughs]. Overall, I’d say no because I have Amy there and it’s her character’s show, and I can resign myself to being a supporting player in someone else’s story.
But yes — because there’s sections of dialogue we tell the audience. And when one is left alone with their words, it’s easy to feel how one could rise to the task of being everything and nothing. To tell the story, and not take focus from the story and the telling, but to also demand attention is the great paradox of being a storyteller in the literal sense of what happens in this, and the greater sense of being an actor and performer.
Ultimately, I’ve got a great scene partner and I never feel I’m going at it alone, so whatever pressure there is, it never capsizes either one of us.
What’s it been like working with your co-star Amy Brenneman and director Cameron Watson? It seems like a great opportunity to learn from two respected veterans in their field. Have you received helpful advice from them, not only in relation to your character, but career?
Keith: That’s a great question because I think I should ask Amy for career advice. [That said], Amy hasn’t showered me with advice, which on some level I appreciate. What she does is she’s great at asking questions such as, ‘What was it like at Juilliard?’ She still asks me curious questions about the play; I think that’s what I can learn from her in never allowing that curiosity to die down.
Cameron has been awesome. He was actually assigned to be my acting coach on [Frasier], to just give support, and it’s nice to have another set of eyes to give you attention and isn’t also running around to get shots — camera shots, not tequila [laughs]. So, I met him there.
Fast forward, I later saw he was directing [The Sound Inside] and I thought I should really go for this. It almost helped in a way — not that I thought he would give it to me, as I auditioned and did chemistry readings. It made it more real in my mind; a person I know is directing this and I can see myself doing it. He’s really great and provides space to experiment, learn, and there’s a real breadth he provides us in the room, to be in it, explore, and improvise.
You have to remember in any scene anywhere, from the perspective of the person watching, is a series of events that unfolds naturally. We have wants and needs from each other in the scenes. It’s great working with an actor who understands the words are just the tool we use to get closer to what we want, and a director who understands that as well.
Lastly, for theatregoers who might be on the fence about seeing The Sound Inside, what’s one thing you can say that might incentivize them to purchase a ticket and experience it?
Keith: [The Sound Inside] provides you with an experience of being wrapped up in a good book. It puts you on a journey, and when you’re finally let go, it leaves you with lots of questions like any good book would. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a play that’s been as honest, dreamy, and engaging in this way.
For more information on The Sound Inside at the Pasadena Playhouse (Sept. 6 – Oct. 1), and to purchase tickets, please visit pasadenaplayhouse.org