BWW Review: THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME at Barn Players
When Mark Haddon's novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time first came out in 2003, we were hesitant to pick it up. Despite the author's assurances that it was not about autism necessarily, it certainly seemed to be that in all but name.There is always the worry about outsiders telling one's story, and the fear they will get it wrong. It seemed to this reviewer that this disclaimer on the author's part was primarily to give himself plausible deniability.
Nevertheless, the book was a hit. And then it spawned a play in 2012, the New York and London productions of which have been virtually buried in awards. And, upon viewing the Barn Players' production at the Arts Asylum (now through June 2nd), one is forced to admit that they more or less got it right.
Christopher Boone (Jace Willcutt) is a boy on the autism spectrum who is embroiled in a mystery when the dog of Mrs. Shears (Megan McCranie) across the street is found dead with a garden fork stuck in it. Determined to seek out the truth, he disobeys his father (Michael Juncker) and begins to investigate, pushing himself out into the world in ways he never dreamed of doing before. Along the way he discovers a secret about his family, the fate of his mother (Larissa Briley), and sits an A-Level maths exam. Oh, and he solves the case too.
This is a pretty complex storyline, and with the heavy reuse of players (of the ten members of the cast, only 4 play one part throughout) it is not a trivial production. It must be said that the Barn Players do pull it off, even managing decent British accents all round, though there were times they obscured the dialogue, unfortunately. Technically the show was fairly simple, eschewing elaborate set design for a white grid that put this reviewer in mind of graph paper - not a bad metaphor for young Christopher's mind, really. The play is framed as his school mentor (Chelsea Rolfes) reading the book he wrote about his experience, and then folding into the story itself the idea that they took it and turned it into a play. This, I have to say, did not really work for me. It felt like one layer of "meta" too many. Still, it is a minor framing device, and has minimal impact on the story per se.
The show is being created in cooperation with and support of Camp Encourage, an overnight camp for young people who are on the autism spectrum. As people become more understanding of this condition - or rather, this category of conditions - more and better resources are becoming available to help young people understand and come to terms with this aspect of themselves. It is heartening to see how far it has come in so short a time. Telling the stories of those who fall outside the norm, as honestly and accurately as possible, is one of the best things theater can do. And as for this reviewer, she is looking very much forward to the day where she sits down to watch a performance written, and perhaps even performed, by a new generation of on-the-spectrum artists, speaking their truth for themselves.