Will Hochman felt like he’d been “punched in the ribs” after reading the script for Adam Rapp’s two-character Broadway play, “The Sound Inside,” for the first time. A series of behind-the-scenes events, however, convinced the New York native that his connection to the psychological thriller extended beyond words on a page.
Three weeks before submitting a taped audition, Hochman received a vintage typewriter as a birthday gift. During a trip to Connecticut shortly afterward, the actor fractured his foot in a basketball match, requiring a visit to the emergency room at Yale New Haven Hospital.
Those events, along with a successful final reading with co-star Mary-Louise Parker, sold Hochman on playing the part of Christopher Dunn, a gifted, if troubled, Yale University student who shuns social media and favors a manual typewriter.
“Adam Rapp is a basketball player, so we connected over that,” he recalled. “I had a typewriter, I was wearing a boot on my foot that said ‘Yale’ … Mary-Louise looks just like my mother, and her son’s name is Will. I had this visceral reaction and felt like I knew how to bring [the character] to life. I’m not sure how to clarify it, but it felt like it was meant to be.”
Directed by David Cromer, “The Sound Inside” opened at New York’s Studio 54 in October following a run at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts last year. It follows Bella Baird (played by Parker), a 53-year-old Yale English professor who is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Without a romantic partner or peer in sight, Bella finds a kindred spirit in Hochman’s Christopher, a wise-beyond-his-years freshman and aspiring novelist.
The pair soon bond over wine and “Crime and Punishment.” As their platonic relationship progresses, tragedy looms as Bella blurs the lines between professor and student and makes a devastating, self-serving request of her literary protégé.
As is the case for many straight plays, “The Sound Inside” hasn’t garnered the across-the-board buzz that puts splashy musicals like “Hadestown” and “Hamilton” on the map. Nonetheless, Hochman is turning in one of the most impressive performances of the season, lending gravitas and a touch of cheeky humor to his debut Broadway role while going head-to-head with Parker, a Golden Globe, Tony and Emmy Award winner.
And though “The Sound Inside” doesn’t address current events in any overt way, Hochman sees the play as “acknowledging not necessarily the facts, but the feelings of” today’s political and social climate.
“There’s plenty of loneliness out there,” he said. “There’s plenty of anger. There’s plenty of darkness. So a story that doesn’t shy away from those things, but instead approaches them with care, levity and bravery … I find to be therapeutic.”
It’s not surprising that Hochman seems natural in the cerebral world of “The Sound Inside,” as the actor himself has a degree in economics. In fact, it wasn’t until his junior year at Maine’s Colby College, where he was also on the squash team, that he decided to try his hand at acting.
Two years after graduation, Hochman landed his first professional role on the New York stage in a 2016 off-Broadway production of “Dead Poets Society.” Last year, he appeared in “Sweat” at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.
Still, nothing quite prepared him for “The Sound Inside,” which he sees as “checking many of the artistic boxes, and many of the life boxes.”
“There’s so much that I get to soak up,” he said. “I have no choice but to match [Parker], or at least to try to. If she hits this amazing cross-court, top spin shot at me ― to use a tennis analogy ― I have to hit it back, or the point is over. And we’re not allowed to end the point.”
After “The Sound Inside” concludes its Broadway run Jan. 12, 2020, Hochman will turn his attention to film. He’s recently shot roles in two movies, “Let Him Go,” with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, and “Critical Thinking,” starring and directed by John Leguizamo, both slated for release next year.
He’ll relish the chance to spend more time with that vintage typewriter, and is currently at work on two plays “not because I need them to be produced, but because it really felt like I had these [stories] that were dying to get out.” The first, he said, is a solo piece about “time, space and theoretical physics,” while the second is a two-person dialogue examining love, longing and soul mates.
“I want to have anything I’m part of to add light to the world,” he continued. “It takes a lot of collective human hours to bring a story to life. So any project I’m a part of, I want it to be worth its weight. I want to know that I’m putting my energy into a worthwhile place.”