BWW REVIEW: Minimalist and Intense CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG Packs Maximum Punch
Opening its 17thseason, the Good Theater's stirring production of Simon Stephens' The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Timetakes the company to new heights of achievement. In a long roster of excellent work, this brilliant staging stands out as one of the company's finest accom;ishments. Minimalist in its staging, eschewing the bells and whistles of the original London and New York productions, Curious Incident packs a maximum punch with its intense narrative and stunning, star- quality performance of Griffin Carpenter in the central role.
The play based, on the book by Mark Haddon, offers one if the most poignant and genuine studies of the psychological and emotional travails an autistic teenager as he grapples with family upheaval and coming of age demands made all the more difficult by his individual challenges. Told with empathy and touching humor, Stephens' script fleshes out the characters of Christopher Boone, his parents, and teacher with understanding and insight, allowing their intertwined stories to be the focus of the drama around which swirl a series of other characters (actors in multiple roles).
Brian P. Allen directs with a surety and empathy that takes immediate hold of the audience. Simplifying the physical production, he focuses on character and dialogue and elicits from his cast beautifully truthful performances that at once speak to the special circumstances of the protagonist and at the same time remind of the universality of situations and emotions. The effect is gripping, spare not saccharine, and at the same time warmly real.
The unit set by Steve Underwood (Technical Director Craig Robinson) allows for fluid movement throughout the various locales. Dominated by a proscenium arch on which scene locales and titles are projected, there is a subtle emphasis on words, on articulating place and action to give context to inner thoughts. Iain Odlin's lighting design helps move the action and provides a few poetic metaphoric moments such as the star-flecked night-time. Justin Cote designs appropriately serviceable costumes that define the characters' ordinary lives. Jacob Cote and Scott Leland provide a well-architected sound design that conjures up the aural soundscape in Christopher's brain as well as the external reality of London and the English suburbs. Stage Manager Michael Lynch anchors the show expertly.
He cast, comprised of many Good Theater veterans and headlined by Griffin Carpenter in a dazzling debut as Christopher Boone, works as a fine-tuned ensemble. As Christopher's parents, Rob Cameron and Janice Gardner give sympathetic portraits of flawed but very human individuals, who are struggling to cope with the demands of their special needs son while searching for their own happiness and fulfillment. Cameron captures especially well the tension that bubbles below the surface, erupting into occasional violence and emotional outbursts, while Gardner skillfully projects a woman trying to balance her own desires with her sense of responsibility to family. Meredith Brustlin makes Siobhan, Christopher's teacher, a sweetly wise, patient, supportive presence who helps steer her charge through numerous crises to his final epiphany of success.
Serving as a kind of chorus, Amy Roche, Christopher Holt, Allison McCall, and Jared Mongeau assume various roles to move the story forward, and to each of their credits (and Allen's direction), they delineate each character individually. Roche is particularly touching as the neighbor Mrs. Alexander, whose own loneliness prompts her to befriend Christopher. Allison McCall creates a series of cheeky characters, highlighted by her rendition of the angry Mrs. Shears. Christopher Holt is an appropriately milk toast, yet exasperated Roger and a kindly Reverend Peters, while Jared Mongeau adds a dry humor as the bewildered Policeman.
All these fine actors provide a believable context for the virtuosity of Griffin Carpenter as Christopher Boone. In a note-perfect performance, Carpenter becomes the specially challenged and specially wonderful young man. From his flawless working class English accent, to the peculiar cadences of his speech, to the awkward physical mannerisms, Carpenter creates a breathtakingly authentic portrait of autism. But beyond this technical brilliance, it is the heart with which he invests the character that makes it incandescent. From his very first appearance, Carpenter projects the inner humanity of the boy that shines through the challenged exterior. Moving through the narrative's events with a fierce doggedness that struggles against the confusion caused by obstacles confronting him, Carpenter succeeds in making Christopher's journey, his battles, and his achievements nothing short of heroic.
The Good Theater has programmed an intensely ambitious season, and what better way to launch it than with this than with this intense, incisive, illuminating, and utterly poetic production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time?
Photos courtesy the Good Theater, Steven Underwood, photographer
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs at the Good Theater, 76 Congress St., Portland, ME from October 3-28, 2018 207-835-0895 www.goodtheater.com