BWW REVIEW: Autism Is Metaphor In THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME ~ A Work Of Astonishing Magnitude
If you could walk a mile in the mind of an autistic teenager, visualize the earth and the heavens with crystal clarity, reduce reality to fundamental truths and solve complex algebraic problems, convulse to a simple touch or sound, and charm the daylights out of those you meet with your intelligence and defiant logic ~ you might begin to get inside the skin of Christopher John Francis Boone, the enigmatic and endearing central character of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME (the 2015 recipient of five Tonys including Best Play, now appearing at ASU Gammage in Tempe, AZ).
On the other hand, Christopher's autism (unspecified but presumably Asperger Syndrome) may be more a metaphor for the artist as a young man, one who occupies a space outside the norm and views the universe in ways that those inside the bubble don't. After all, Christopher self-identifies as "a mathematician with some behavioral difficulties." He is a stickler for details, knows all the countries of the world, the Capital Cities, and every prime number up to 7507, and most importantly, he always tells the truth.
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME is a landmark piece of theatre, melding acting and technology with a result that is astonishing and riveting. The special visual and auditory effects are cinematic in scale, beyond chandeliers dropping from the ceiling or helicopters thrumming on to the stage. This is spectacle that is spectacular, requiring the directorial brilliance of Marianne Elliott.
At 12:07 a.m., Christopher (the mercurial Adam Langdon) discovers a neighbor's dog named Wellington lying dead with a garden fork stuck in its side and, despite the admonitions of his father (Gene Gillette), he sets out on a "project" to find the dog's murderer. What starts out like a tale from Conan Doyle or J.K. Rowlings ends up far more Homeric, an odyssey into the heart of truth and revelations that are life-changing.
Adam Langdon's performance as Christopher is a tour de force ~ magnetic, jaw-dropping and inspiring. He travels the boards like a wild pinball, spinning webs of reasoning like a spider on LSD. He is a reservoir of wonderment as he reflects Christopher's wit, solemnity, and sly irreverence. A Julliard classmate of Alex Sharp (who won the Tony for Best Actor in this role), Langdon has carved a place of distinction for himself as the star of the National Theatre's tour of the show.
The supporting performances in this production are crisp and engaging. Gene Gillette cuts a sympathetic figure as Christopher's overbearing and protective father, desperately seeking to connect with his son while keeping a secret that may alienate him. FeliciTy Jones Latta is gripping as the mother whose frustration and guilt tear at her heart. Maria Elena Ramirez is perfect and relatable as Christopher's teacher who understands him better than anyone, provides moral support, and, as a play within a play, narrates the book he's written about his journey.
As an intricately designed whole, the play, based on Mark Haddon's novel and adapted by Simon Stephens, is a work of astonishing magnitude and supreme relevance to our appreciation of the human condition.
The National Theatre production of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME will run through June 25th after which it moves on to San Francisco.
Photo credit to Joan Marcus