BWW Review: THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME at the Ahmanson Makes for Exhilarating Theatre
The National Theatre Production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time/by Simon Stephens/based on the novel by Mark Haddon/directed by Marianne Elliott/Ahmanson Theatre/through September 10
What a deliciously exciting and provocative evening in the theatre! The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens from Mark Haddon's novel, comes to vivid life as a play within a play with a fascinating array of visual effects, a dynamite ensemble and a remarkable performance by Adam Langdon under the skilled direction of Marianne Elliott. It graces the Ahmanson stage through September 10 only.
I cannot recall another play written about a teen with Asperger's Syndrome, an extremely delicate form of autism. We see the action of what is transpiring through the eyes of 15 year-old Christopher Boone (Langdon) whose life struggle is further complicated by parental mistreatment. It reminds one of the stories in the musicals Matilda and Amelie, where both female children are either ignored or improperly cared for by their parents. In this play, it's Christopher's mother Judy (FeliciTy Jones Latta) and his father Ed (Gene Gillette), who have ceased to connect. Ed tells Chris that his mother is in hospital and has died from a heart atack when in fact, she has left home to shack up in London with neighbor Roger Shears (John Hemphill).
Let's back up. At the top, Wellington, the Shears' dog is found stabbed to death with a pitch fork and Christopher, cradling the dog in his arms, is accused of the murder. Of course, he didn't do it, and with his brilliant mind at play, he assumes the role of detective, setting out to find the real killer. Eventually, he discovers letters written to him by his mother, hidden in a box under his father's bed. When Ed catches Christopher in the act, he makes excuses for his behavior and confesses to Wellington's murder, only to cause the boy, fearing for his own life, to run away to his mother in London.
Stephens has opened up Haddon's novel, written in the first person, by having Christopher's scholastic mentor Siobhan (Maria Elena Ramirez) read from the book and then switching to live action performed by Langdon and the entire ensemble - essaying a variety of roles - who move with clockwork efficiency. To watch Christopher work the floor of the stage by drawing symbols that transfer to the projection screen behind ... and set up a model train set complete with surrounding village and other familiar locales is quite a marvel. As others speak, he briskly and skillfully goes about his task, totally engrossed in his own private world, almost unconscious of the words that are spoken. In his very unusual way, he is planning his trip to join his mother, which turns out to be a rather hectic one for a boy with Asperger's. Nonetheless, in Act Two he accomplishes the next to impossible, achieving his first major goal, the second being to pass to Level A in an upcoming maths test at school. Again as in Matilda and Amelie, the characters through talent and uber intelligence, work their own paths to a happier lifestyle.
In Stephens' play Heisenberg, which just closed at the Taper, there is also great emphasis placed on truth versus fantasy. We leave that play realizing the unimportance of the facts, as the people have unexpectedly found love. Truth in Curious Incident, however, has far more value. In spite of Christopher's flights of fancy in desiring to be an astronaut or Sherlock Holmes, his real achievements occur more assuredly when those who are responsible to him tell the truth.
The entire cast are superb throughout, under Marianne Elliott's cautiously watchful eye. Brian Robert Burns, Kathy McCafferty, Geoffrey Wade, Francesca Choy-Kee, Amelia White, Robyn Kerr and J. Paul Nicholas surround the featured players with consistently great character work. Langdon is amazing at every turn. (Benjamin Wheelwright performs the matinees.) The entire plot unravels through his mind and with his intensely unique physicality and emotional instability, Christopher requires acting dexterity above and beyond ... Langdon fills the bill to perfection. Latta, Hemphill and Gillette are exceedingly effective especially Gillette in Ed's transformation to win back his son's respect and admiration. Ramirez affects a supportive yet professional demeanor as Siobhan, never allowing Christopher to get too close to her personally.
Kudos to Ian Dickinson for superior sound design, Adrian Sutton for his intriguing music, Bunny Christie for her scenic and costume design - the set is wondrous with all of its small compartments that serve as drawers, Paule Constable for superb lighting design, and Finn Ross for unbelievable video design. As I mentioned at top, the visual and audio effects are astounding throughout. They make total sense within Christopher's fiercely different world. Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett are to be praised for brilliantly choreographing the ensemble, particularly visible in the opening of Act Two as Christopher makes his frantic journey from the outskirts to London.
It goes without saying that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time receives my highest praise. This fascinating odyssey of one genius's achievements over adversity should be at the top of your must-see list.
(photo credit: Joan Marcus)