Amy Brenneman returns to the stage in Pasadena Playhouse's 'The Sound Inside'
By Tara Lynn Wagner | September 11, 2023
Having his face hanging larger than life on South El Molino Avenue is something Anders Craggs Keith is still getting used to.
“Sort of like looking in a fun-house mirror,” he said, standing below the massive poster.
Born in Eagle Rock, the Anders family moved to South Pasadena where he attended high school and cut his theatrical teeth with the youth group Theatre 360. But he always had his eye on the Playhouse.
“I saw plays here growing up and would always walk by and think, ‘Oh, gosh, what a beautiful space. What an awesome building,’” Keith recalled. “It’s a dream come true.”
He graduated from Juilliard just last year and, in a way, “The Sound Inside” sends him back to school. He plays Christopher, a Yale student with a few quirks. Christopher prefers to use a manual typewriter over his brand new MacBook and he hates email and twitter.
“Twitter is basically cheap haiku for the overly caffeinated,” his character rants before launching into a detailed, less than savory description of the baristas at the campus café.
“He is an individual by his own choice,” Keith explained, noting that some might find him pretentious. “He thinks of himself almost like a character from a Dostoevsky story.”
Literary references are common in this two-hander, which also stars Amy Brenneman as Christopher’s creative writing teacher. She admits she’s more of a non-fiction fan but she’s enjoyed submerging herself in her character Bella’s library, including Light Years by James Salter and Salinger’s Franny and Zooey.
“One of the things I love about acting is you do what your characters do,” she explained. “If they’re a surgeon, you hang out with surgeons, and I have just loved diving into the waters that she swims in.”
Set at Yale, between an academic and her student, both writers, it stands to reason that the language would be elevated. There is depth to the way these characters speak that weaves a spell, leaving the audience hanging on every word.
“I think these are deep feeling, deep thinking people,” Brenneman said of Bella and Christopher. “I think in this moment of, you know, everybody’s got to publish their life every five minutes. And usually, it’s the good stuff. And these are private people. They’re thoughtful people. They’re isolated people, but they are a little bit out of step with the dominant culture. And that’s why, even though they’re decades apart, they find each other.”
The play also allows Brenneman to do something else she loves: speak directly to the audience. It’s a style she often employs in her own theatrical writing and one she finds especially resonant at a time when screens are ubiquitous.
“She comes out and she’s like, ‘Hi, I see you audience,” she explained of Bella’s entrance at the start of the play. “’I see you and you see me and off we go.’ I get to talk to humans that showed up to be together.”
Unfortunately, ticket sales at theaters across the country indicate that people may have gotten out of the habit of seeing live performances. Earlier this year, Center Theatre Group announced a pause in programming at the Mark Taper Forum and other regional theaters, like Artists Repertory Theatre in Portland, have taken similar measures. Which is why Brenneman encourages people to come see this show — or any show actually.
“If you care about being together in community and seeing live performances, go see it because this is a time to show our support,” she said. “Otherwise, some of these beautiful theaters may not come back.”
Artistic Director Danny Feldman had a similar request, as he welcomed the opening night audience. He urged the crowd to see theater all over town, from the smallest spaces to the large houses, explaining that the theater community is one ecosystem.
As for Keith, his Playhouse debut is one of two big things he’s got brewing. He’s also starring as Frasier’s nephew in the reboot of the series that will stream on Paramount+. The show was filmed in front of the live audience so he says it still had a theatrical feel to it which is good because like Brenneman; he longs for the community and immediacy of live theater.
“I love the theater and I want to do this for the rest of my life if that’s allowed,” Keith said. “Fingers crossed.”
Spoken like a someone in the midst of writing their own future.