BWW Review: THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME at Connor-Palace/Cleveland
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)
When the 2016-17 Key Bank Broadway series was announced, I was ecstatic. Three of my favorite recent Broadway shows were listed: "Something Rotten," "An American in Paris," and "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time."
The capsule judgment of my New York "Curious Incident" review read: "The production is outstanding on every level. Well written, creatively staged and exceptionally acted, it is a highlight of the Fall, 2014 season. It well-deserved the screaming standing ovation it received. To add to the excitement, Alex Sharp gives a Tony Award winning performance!"
I was right about Sharp's performance as he did win the valued statue. The show won 5 Tony's in all.
I wish I could be as excited about the touring show as I was about the Great White Way staging.
In spite of the same director, Marianne Elliott, the touring production, at least on opening night, didn't have the same spellbinding effect. The sets, lights, special effects were all basically the same. Unfortunately, Alex Sharp is not on stage, and that took the level down quite a bit. It's not that this version isn't quite acceptable, it just isn't all that it could have been.
In an interesting theatrical device, the tale is told via a narrator reading a story that Christopher, a high functioning autistic teenager, has written as a school assignment.
As the lights come up, it is 1998 in Swindon, England. Christopher is standing over the dead body of Wellington, a neighbor's large dog. The animal has been killed by a pitch fork.
As many with Asperger's Syndrome, Christopher has strong deficits in social interaction and communication. His eye contact is inconsistent. He has difficulty in understanding social cues and a poor ability to read nonverbal signs. He takes most information he receives literally and is obsessive compulsive, requiring each thing to have its place and for little or no changes in his routines.
Christopher reacts to loud noises and being touched by physically lashing out and then quickly withdrawing. Rituals have to be followed in order to touch him. He is also very clumsy. Many AS patients have a strong mental skill. Christopher's is mathematics.
The dead dog takes Christopher out of his comfort zone, flips on a desire to right the wrong so things are as they were, and he becomes obsessed with finding the killer.
When the police arrive, the bobby invades the boy's territory and touches him. Christopher panics, flails and shrinks. As a result, Christopher is taken to the police station for attacking an officer.
The tangled plot includes several infidelities, Christopher's desire to take the A-level math exam, and the discovery of letters that leads him to distrust his father.
Pushing against his strong desires for security and order, Christopher undertakes the daunting task of leaving his neighborhood, taking a train to London, and searching for the mother that his father had told him was dead.
There is a reconnection with his mother, a return to Swindon, readjusting to his father, and his sitting for the difficult A-level test. As Christopher has promised the audience, he gets his A grade, "the best possible score," and solves the mystery of Wellington's murder.
Christopher says, "I have been very brave." Yes, he has faced his fears, conquered the unnerving trip to London, and written a book that tells the tale!
The touring production, as was the case with the Broadway production, is blessed with Finn Ross's video design. We are often inside of Christopher's mind, seeing where his confusions and disconnects happen. We fall off the platform of the tube [London's subway] as he chases his pet rat, watch his mind navigate the unfamiliar streets as he searches for his mother, are encapsulated by hundreds of lights which cover all areas of the stage, and become swept into what is almost a large computer game.
Langdon fails to become the autistic youth, he portrays him. The eye blinks, hand flailing, avoiding contact are feigned, not lived. This is obvious when, after the curtain call, Langdon returns to the stage to fulfill a promise he made about telling us how he solved a very complex math problem. He is Langdon, not Christopher during the languid explanation, during which, unfortunately, many in the audience left.
On Broadway, in that scene, Sharp transformed himself completely back to Christopher and with arms flailing, voice filled with excitement and eyes flashing, he mesmerized the audience with his three-minute explanation.
The rest of the cast, each of whom play multiple roles, are all excellent. They mold together to create the people in Christopher's life.
Unfortunately, due to an overly loud blasting of background music, some of the dialogue was drowned out. This, plus an underperforming mic, caused most of the words of the narrator to be almost impossible to hear, robbing the audience of valuable and vital words.
Capsule judgement: The script and visual technical aspects of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" is outstanding on every level. Unfortunately, on opening night, the touring production did not take the play to the heights that it deserves.