BWW Review: The Phoenix Theatre Company Presents THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME
At 12:07 a.m., Christopher John Francis Boone, the enigmatic and endearing central character of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, discovers his neighbor's dog, Wellington, lying dead with a garden fork stuck in its side. Despite the admonitions of his father, he sets out, just as Sherlock Holmes would have, on a "project" to find the dog's murderer. His is, in the end, a circuitous, revelatory, and life-affirming odyssey.
So begins the story of the 2015 Tony-award winning play, adapted by Simon Stephens from Mark Haddon's best-selling mystery novel, now playing at The Phoenix Theatre Company.
The allusion to Holmes is intentional, for just as Conan Doyle's iconic detective was known to have remarkable powers of observation, relational thinking, and deduction, so too does Christopher. Just as Sherlock was stand-offish in personal relationships, so too is Christopher loath to the human touch. Both, however share an obsession with solving their cases. It's this parallel of characterization that makes the play, beyond its inherent arc as a mystery and a love story, so intriguing to watch. (It's also worth noting, for the edification of the reader, that the story's title comes from a crucial crime-solving observation by Holmes in The Adventure of Silver Blaze.)
Christopher, all of "15 years and 3 months and 2 days" at the time of his discovery, is a whirlwind of emotion and uncanny reasoning. If you could walk a mile in the mind of a savant, visualize the earth and the heavens with crystal clarity, reduce reality to fundamental truths and solve complex algebraic problems, convulse to a simple touch or sound, and charm the daylights out of those you meet with your intelligence and defiant logic ~ you might begin to get inside Christopher's mind and skin. And you would appreciate him for his uniqueness and non-conformity and determination.
Christopher occupies a space outside the norm. He views the universe in ways that those inside the bubble don't. Indeed, Christopher self-identifies as "a mathematician with some behavioral difficulties." He is a stickler for details, knows all the countries of the world, the capital cities, and every prime number up to 7507, and most importantly, he always tells the truth.
And, it is in this sense of a character so distinctive and nuanced, that Greg Nussen realizes Christopher, for all his apparent quirks, as a thoroughly relatable and sympathetic figure. Nussen's performance is engrossing. He sweeps across the stage like a pinball, never tilting but always relaying Christopher's mood shifts and solemn observations with pinpoint fidelity.
The supporting performances in this production are likewise crisp and effectively rendered. Michael Kary cuts a sympathetic figure as Ed, Christopher's overbearing and protective father, desperately seeking to connect with his son while keeping a secret that will surely alienate him. Kelly Pekar is gripping as the mother whose betrayal and guilt tear at her heart. Elizabeth Brownlee Blair is a calming force as Christopher's teacher who understands him better than anyone, provides moral support, and, in a play within a play, narrates the book that he's written about his journey.
As Christopher travels beyond his normal boundaries to discover an unsettling truth, we travel every mile with him, sensitive to his moments of wonderment, suspicion, discovery, pathos, and recovery. It is this connection with the character and the mystery that he seeks to solve that makes this production so absorbing and gratifying.
It is as well the mix of technical effects and superb acting by the supporting members of the ensemble that commend the show to theatre-lovers' attention.
Director Karla Koskinen's sensitive direction gives breadth and depth to this very human story. Where other productions have saturated this play with digital projections, Koskinen has downplayed that element to give space and expression to the characters that occupy Christopher's environs. Bravo to her and her team for a powerhouse of a production.
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME runs through November 10th in The Phoenix Theatre Company's Hormel Theatre.
Photo credit to Reg Madison Photography
The Phoenix Theatre Company ~ 1825 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix, AZ ~ www.phoenixtheatre.com ~ 602-254-2151