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BWW Review: THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME at Portland Center Stage

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The show runs through Dec. 24, with a sensory-friendly performance on Dec. 21.

BWW Review: THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME at Portland Center Stage

The world is loud and bright, social interaction is fraught, and crowds are unbearable. This is the experience of Christopher, the central character in THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, who is neurodivergent (it's not explicitly stated, but the general consensus is that Christopher has autism). It's also a pretty accurate description of how it feels to move around in the world now that we're maybe sort of coming out of almost two years of isolation. Though THE CURIOUS INCIDENT... premiered in 2012 and is based on a book published in 2003, it's difficult to imagine a play better suited to these weird times.

The show, which is currently running at Portland Center Stage, is a mystery of sorts. The neighbor's dog Wellington turns up dead one day, killed with a garden fork, and 15-year-old Christopher is blamed. He didn't do it (not a spoiler), but he decides to find out who does, a quest that takes him on an unexpected journey and leads him to discover some family secrets. Meanwhile, he needs to get home in time to take his A-level exams in math, which is something that no one at his school has ever done.

The original UK and US productions (both directed by Marianne Elliott) won a ton of awards and garnered acclaim for creating an immersive sensory experience that allowed the audience to gain a sense of what it feels like to have autism. The PCS production, directed by Marissa Wolf, embraces this idea as well, using lighting, sound, and movement to illustrate how Christopher perceives the world. Wolf's direction also focuses on the almost absurdist comedy in the piece - it's an emotionally charged play about a difficult time for a family, but it's also laugh-out-loud funny in a way that I didn't expect.

Jamie Sanders, who plays Christopher, brings to the role not just acting ability but a character informed by his own experience with neurodivergence. The anxiety that Christopher feels at times is palpable, and I was glad that Wolf let Sanders' acting speak for itself rather than weighing those moments down with too many hi-tech effects. At the same time, Sanders's Christopher shows a lot of spunk - he refuses to be defined by what other people see as his inabilities and instead focuses on what he does well, which is a lot by any measure. I can see how Christopher's story might be interpreted as triumph over adversity, but with Sanders in the role it's more like "stop telling me what I can't do and get out of the way while I do it."

As we approach 2022, we can all take a lesson from Christopher to reexamine the obstacles that we put in the way of people (including ourselves). It might be time to tear them down.

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME runs through Dec. 24. More details and tickets here. There's also a sensory-friendly performance on Dec. 21. Learn more.


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