BWW Review: Cat Arnold Directs Inspiring CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME for Way Off Broadway
Henry, Hartline and Seidel Offer Stirring Performances in Music City Production
Sharply focused direction and an imaginative design concept by Cat Arnold - along with stellar leading performances from Tyler Henry, Craig Hartline and Deborah Seidel - combine to make Way Off Broadway Productions' The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time one of the year's best stage dramas to be seen in the Nashville area, practically demanding you make reservations now to witness the "event" before its run ends on September 29. Not seeing it would indeed be a missed opportunity to see the young company's most outstanding production to date.
Simon Stephens' fascinating script, which is based upon the novel of the same name by Mark Madden, is among the most inspiring stage dramas of this early first quarter of the 21st century and Way Off Broadway Productions' iteration of it exceeds all expectations. In short, it's a grand night of live theater that is certain to transport and to transform.
Arnold's vision for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is essential to the success of the production and her laser-like focus on the project - something she's been shepherding for months through the circuitous route usually taken by the local mounting of a particularly noteworthy work of art - ensures that audiences are treated to a theatrical experience they may not have had the opportunity to enjoy before. Arnold's concept for the WOB production is inspired by Marianne Elliott's original stage production that played London's West End, Broadway and toured throughout the country to both critical and popular acclaim. So evocative was that award-winning production that the possibility of seeing a worthy successor on a local stage seemed far-fetched and rather ludicrous.
Arnold and her team, however, have done the impossible by creating a production that is just as complex and just as entertaining and engaging, while recognizing the limitations of a much smaller budget and utilizing their venue's limitations to their best advantage. Coupled with the laudable performances of a thoroughly committed ensemble of actors, the concept and the startling attention to detail result in a truly memorable production that audiences will appreciate.
The play - about a 15-year-old boy on the autism spectrum who sets off on a rather fanciful adventure to investigate the inexplicable death of a neighbor's pet dog - is challenging, inventive and imaginative, drawing audiences deep into the mind of its intriguing protagonist Christopher Boone (played with nuance, vigor and understated drama by Tyler Henry in what is clearly his best performance to date, showing off the early promise of his work as an undergraduate at Nashville's Belmont University). As Christopher delves into the mystery, we learn more about his home life and his relationships with the people in his orbit, including his father (Craig Hartline has never been better than as the understandably perplexed, yet deeply caring Ed) and absent mother (Deborah Seidel is impressive, showing off a wide range of emotions throughout her performance) and all the others who populate Christopher's world (played with deft professionalism by an ensemble that includes Kimberly Grooms, James Crews, Leslie Marberry, Lanie Shannon, Kurt Denny, Judy Jackson, Stan Ferguson and Elise Jardine).
Arnold's scenic design makes good use of the production's venue (Music Valley Event Center in Nashville's touristy Opryland area), transforming the low-ceilinged space into the compartmentalized world of Christopher's mind that reflects his love of math and enclosed spaces. It's clever to be certain and Arnold and her team do an exemplary job of creating a space and production design that evokes the one seen in the award-winning production that launched The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time on its award-winning trajectory. More to the point, however, Arnold and her crew (which includes lighting designer Kurt Grabenstein, props master Tony Shannon, sound designer Leslie Berra and various and sundry other artists and techies) create that world without the technical wizardry afforded them by a much-larger budget.
Rather, they make the space and its limitations work to the betterment of the play, employing clever and inventive touches and flourishes that deliver the goods, as it were, in a production that's startlingly frank and compelling. Arnold's vision is brought to life thanks to the concerted efforts of all those involved, but never for a minute does it seem unilateral or single-minded. Rather, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is the culmination of artistic collaboration, guaranteed to inspire and to enlighten.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. By Simon Stephens. Based on the novel by Mark Madden. Directed by Cat Arnold. Assistant direction and choreography by Dave Williams. Presented by Way Off Broadway Productions at Music Valley Event Center, Nashville. Through September 29. For details, go to www.wobnash.org. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (with one 15-minute intermission).