BWW Review: Imaginative and Thought-Provoking, THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, Now Thru July 23
The set of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is cold and sterile; a 3- dimensional, graph paper grid of straight lines and right angles that we soon find out is much like the autistic brain of "15 years, 3 months and two-days-old," Christopher Boone. The stage soon hums and spins to life, giving us an inside look at what it's like for Christopher to embark on a hero's journey despite his brain's chaotic and jarring recalcitrance.
The Simon Stephens play is based on Mark Haddon's 2003 novel of the same name. Playing now through July 23, "The Curious Incident" gets curiouser and curiouser until you're completely pulled in - at once enthralled and appalled by what's unfolding and what it takes for Christopher to simply be himself in the world. Winner of five 2015 Tonys, including Best Play, it's an imaginative and thought-provoking story.
What I didn't mention in the above description is that as you enter the hall there's a dead dog center stage. It was a bit surreal to see audience members finding their way to their seats, turning off their phones and thumbing through programs, all while a furry dog lies stabbed with a garden fork for all the world to see. Clearly, the Aristotelian theatrical law of suspension of disbelief had not yet occurred.
Soon enough Christopher enters the scene and the dead dog suddenly becomes an appalling thing to behold for us all. It's the neighbor's pet and the deeply upset boy vows to find it's killer. Against his father's clear command to stay out of other people's business, he embarks on a methodical and systematic search for the murderer documenting each step in a journal that he shares with his teacher Siobhan (Maria Elena Ramirez). Each discovery leads him further down a dark rabbit's hole of mystery and intrigue right to the center of himself.
If that sounds cryptic it's intended to be so. There's no untying the knot without giving away the plot. But I will tell you that Adam Langdon, as the nerve-jangled Christopher, whose mind deals with complex ciphers better than it does the nuances of human interactions, is astounding. His full immersion into the character is what gives this play its tenacity and drive. It's clear that his father, Ed Boone (a life-weary Gene Gillette) loves him. He recognizes his son's genius even as he grapples with the fact that his only child can't bare to be touched without succumbing to histrionics. Ed pushes the school to let Christopher take his advanced mathematics test two years early - but he's also worn out by the daily struggle of raising a teen with Asperger's, especially now that his wife (FeliciTy Jones Latta) is gone. Only Siobhan seems to understand him, encouraging him to continue writing his journal which, she tells him, is good enough to become a play.
Director Marianne Elliott's minimalistic vision for the show counts on the audience's imagination to see Christopher hurling through space or navigating a congested London train station without benefit of an actual train - or an actual station, for that matter. At some point in Act II though, the shows goes off the rails as it were, wasting too much time on getting Christopher to London. We get it. The trip is hard for him to handle. It's also at this point that the abrasive, static screeching, meant to mimic the radio interference in his head, becomes too much to bear. You want to take the audience to the point of understanding, but not to the point of exasperation.
As Christopher solves the murder mystery he also solves the problem of how to deal with adults who are, in their own way, just as flawed and imperfect as he is. As we all are. In the end, we're all just trying to navigate our own way through the jangled, nerve-jarring messiness of life.
Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus