BWW Review: The Precise Compassion of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME at St. Edward's University
When overwhelmed, we all have different coping mechanisms. Maybe you fall silent, take a nap, or settle into a comforting movie. Christopher, the spectacularly intelligent main character in THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, precipitously counts prime numbers to self-soothe. Or he collapses to the floor and moans until the stressful event subsides.
In a play, the way most characters physically interact with the world around them is of no consequence. A simple trip to the train station is just that; a simple trip to the train station. The audience and character focus on the destination and what's going to happen when the character arrives, not the cacophonous train car they're sitting in.
But for fifteen-year-old Christopher, who's autistic, every action, noise, and touch teeters on the edge of overstimulation. A simple trip to the train station is terrifying and life-altering. Should a moment overwhelm or disturb him, he's rendered incapacitated.
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME follows Christopher on his mission to find the person who stabbed his neighbor's dog with a pitchfork, after Christopher's found next to the newly deceased canine and accused of the murder. Based on the 2003 novel by Mark Haddon and directed by Robert Tolaro, it's the only play I've experienced that opens with a (don't worry, it's fake) dead dog in the middle of the stage. But Christopher's not just dealing with clearing his name. He's also reeling from his mother's recent death as well as preparing to take A-level maths (the play is set in England) in school.
The productions hinges on the actor playing Christopher bringing a sense of compassion and realism to his portrayal. The audience must relate to Christopher, yet understand his perplexing behavior as he navigates an overwhelming world. Freshman Emile Sivero knocks it out of the park; elevating the play to new heights while completing a staggering marathon of dialogue as Christopher speaks almost non-stop throughout the entire play. Playing Christopher's father Ed, actor Mike Dolan explosively reveals the frustration, tenderness, and helplessness Ed feels as he desperately tries to understand and protect his son.
Saint Edward's absolutely incandescent production sends the audience down the neon-soaked rabbit hole of Christopher's psyche and expresses how his ever-racing mind functions. Through the blistering, tumultuous performances and razor-sharp technical execution, we feel every moment of panic, elation, and success as inscrutably as Christopher feels them.
The flawless technical design of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME in itself is just as much of a character as Christopher. The Mary Moody Northen Theatre is filled with screens, lights, pulsating music, and sound effects to portray how Christopher perceives the world and how one touch to him feels like the shock of a one thousand volt electrical current. The production reaches its zenith during the scenes observing Christopher's adventure from his quiet English suburb to the bustling streets of London. The lights, choreography, and sounds work seamlessly to capture the magnified onslaught of stimulation, confusion, and stress felt traveling in a metropolitan area.
This is a singular play executed with razor-sharp precision by the cast and crew, yet it never loses the humanity and depth of relationships at the heart of the play. The hyper-stimulation surrounding the characters only enhances their journeys, which makes it that much more powerful. THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME affirms the world of a young man who not only finds strength within himself but also beauty in unexpected places.
Photo by Bret Brookshire
Thursday - Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:00 p.m.
February 13 - February 23, 2020
Mary Moody Northen Theatre, St. Edward's University
3001 S Congress Ave
Austin, TX, 78704