From afar one would be hard-pressed to glean similarities between the dazzling musical about the life and tumultuous times of The Temptations in Ain’t Too Proud and the stark and dark play about the quietly tortured and lonely life of a middle-aged professor in The Sound Inside. The first is all song and dance, slick and sparkly costumes, and a crazy number of ridiculously talented voices touring us through a songbook of “whoa I didn’t know that was The Temptations!?” Motown’s “best of” music. The second is stripped bare staging with one primary voice, that of the multitudinously talented Mary Louise-Parker, unfolding her painful story as if she were in conversation with each audience member on the floor of their living room.
But those similarities I mentioned? They are there in abundance! Both shows revolve around the upside, downside, and consequences of life decisions. The Temptations collectively choose the mountainous and bumpy climb to fame. Our professor chooses a solitary, almost ascetic and guarded existence. The Temptations in its various permutations of the “live five” achieve wild success and pay all sorts of wild consequences: infighting, alcohol, drugs, eruptions of ego, the sacrifice of life constantly on the road, the harsh reality of when fame gets swept out from under you and loneliness even when within a sea of people (perhaps the very worst kind?). Our Professor also achieves success in her goal of a life surrounded by books, a tenured teaching role at Yale, and a modicum of published success. Her consequences? A structured life in a lonely office with her sole, constant and comforting companion being a legal yellow pad that she lunges at often to furiously record every nugget of a sentence her writer’s brain produces. She is alone, lonely, and pitched uncomfortably off-kilter when this existence gets pierced by a sycophant of a student.
Ain’t Too Proud is thrilling. The battery of music thrown at the audience is a gift. You will likely be playing Mo-Town in your home sound system or be like Tracey P. and build a whole workout around this genre of music the very next day (well played, Tracey, well played). But the show is – catch you off guard – sad as stories of a bunch of humans navigating life inevitably are.
The Sound Inside is labeled a “psychological thriller” by its marketing folks (to sell tickets I suppose – truth be told I employed that very phrase to get my daughter to join). While thrilling to see Mary Louise-Parker bring sentences to life, I would deem the play more of a psychological portrait of loneliness and despair with a college creative writing seminar celebrating the craft of the written word woven into almost every scene.
Both are worth grabbing your group and going to for surprisingly some of the very same reasons, just in polar opposite ends of the spectrum packages. Oh Broadway – the stories you share with us. Such a magical place. Thank you.