BWW Review: A CURIOUS INCIDENT Occurs Onstage At The Hobby Center
BROADWAY AT THE HOBBY CENTER presents THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, a play by Simon Stephens, based on the novel by Mark Haddon.
Produced at The National Theatre in London, and transferred to Broadway, THE CURIOUS INCIDENT won the Tony for Best New Play 2015 and is still running, both on tour and in New York and London.
The play tells the story of 15-year-old Christopher Boone (Adam Langdon), a mathematical genius with symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome and high-functioning autism - his specific condition is never named - and his struggle to function in a hostile world.
The narrative begins with Christopher bending over the carcass of a dead dog, which has been stabbed with a garden fork. Christopher, who loved the dog, is stricken. The dog's owner, neighbor Mrs. Shears (Charlotte Maier) comes into the scene and accuses Christopher of killing the animal, and although he protests his innocence, she calls the police, who send an officer to investigate. Not knowing Christopher's condition, the policeman questions him roughly, and receives answers that he considers sass, although Christopher is only telling the truth to the best of his ability. He doesn't understand metaphorical language, and takes every word literally, which is problematic in communicating with ordinary people. Because of his syndrome, he can only tell the truth, something else that gets him into trouble. Also, he cannot abide being touched, so he resists when the officer puts his hands on him, and is arrested. His father (Gene Gillette) arrives at the station, explains the situation, and Christopher is released with a caution.
Back at home, Christopher decides to investigate the killing of the dog, a la Sherlock Holmes, and begins interrogating the neighbors, with predictable consequences. Some of his encounters are quite funny, but when his father finds out what he is doing and forbids him to continue, he does so anyway. What he discovers along the way only adds to his frustration and angst.
Most of the rest of the plot contains spoilers, so I'll tread carefully.
In a play within a book within a play twist, Christopher has written down everything that has happened, which Siobbian, Christopher's teacher and mentor at his school for special needs students, (Maria Elena Ramirez) has made into a book, which she reads from as the action unfolds. She suggests that they make the book into a school play, with Christopher playing himself. He immediately , and quite rightly, objects to this rather idiotic plan. (He considers acting to be lying, and he can't do that.) Besides, the book is private.
But there is another character in this production that cannot be ignored. It's the set. Designed by Bunny Christie, with Lighting Design by Paule Constable and Sound Design by Ian Dickinson, it is a mixed-media extravaganza that is integral to the piece, both in function and appearance.
Actor Adam Langdon beautifully embodies Christopher's tics and foibles, as well as his fear and pain, but the set takes over, amplifying them with sound and light until the theater is awash with sensations. It makes the experience all the more visceral, pounding home the physical and emotional feeling of the character.
Alone on a train, something he has never done, Christopher must cope with a world that is terrifying and chaotic, and here the set and effects take the audience into his head with stunning impact. Along with Christopher, you just want to escape into a world of silence and calm.
There is also an ensemble, sometimes acting as a sort of Greek chorus; other times interacting with Christopher in ways both helpful and harmful. Choreographers Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett create a seamlessly surreal world that allows Christopher, in one scene, to walk on the walls.
The play is a cauldron of emotion, presenting a range of human behaviors for Christopher to navigate, and hopefully, conquer. There is the heartbreaking depiction of parents of a special needs child, unequipped and unprepared, who love him, but receive no physical or emotional return. There is a particularly poignant moment when his father undresses the sleeping Christopher and puts him to bed. Exhausted, Christopher is unaware that he is being touched, and his father, for the first time, takes his son in his arms and embraces him. The emotion here is palpable.
As you may have surmised, this play is filled to the brim with drama, albeit with a little comic relief thrown in. There is some manipulation; things I wouldn't have chosen to do, but the cast is excellent, and the production values are the highest.
All this having been said, I can't help wondering how the play would fare without its supporting character, the set. As complex - and prohibitively expensive - as it is, a smaller company could never afford it, or have the expertise to operate it. How does a play like this continue to live, I wonder. Will it?
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG AT NIGHT-TIME. January 24 - 29, 2017. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby Street. Call 713-315-2525 or visit thehobbycenter.org for more information.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus