BWW Review: Village's THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME is Curiously Inconsistent
K.I.S.S. It's the best advice you can give anyone in acronym form; meaning, Keep It Simple Stupid, and it's the mantra that the folks at Village Theatre should have taken to heart when attempting to stage Simon Stephens' brilliant play, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time". Now, you may say, "But Jay, the Broadway and touring productions were anything but simple." And that's true, but unless you can pull off that level of stage wizardry, then you need to go in another direction. Unfortunately, Village went in another direction but also kept everything quite complex throwing everything they could think of on stage, none of which really worked completely, resulting in a mish mash of inconsistencies and a play that didn't communicate what it should.
If you're unfamiliar with the play or Mark Haddon's book on which it's based, it follows Christopher (Michael Krenning), a 15-year-old boy who's, well, different. Although it's never said in the play or in the book it's fairly clear he's probably on the autism spectrum as he has trouble interacting with the world, with change, or even being touched. But what Christopher excels at is Math and its orderly nature. But when Christopher's orderly world is turned upside down with the murder of his neighbor's dog, Wellington, he decides he must be the one to find out who killed him. However, his investigations will uncover secrets about his own past that he may not be ready for and send him on a journey way outside his comfort zone.
Now, no one is saying they needed to mimic the Broadway production that allowed the audience to experience the world as Christopher does through a light up stage, over amplified sounds, and stylized movement in a controlled chaos. But something any production of this show does need to do is to somehow allow the audience to experience Christopher's world as he does. Village and director Jerry Dixon kept attempting their own version of this but failing. They packed the stage with rolling blackboards which mostly got in the way of sightlines and obscured video screens in the back. The video screens occasionally showed off chaotic frequency modulation to indicate Christopher's stress, but it wasn't used consistently enough to mean anything. Plus, there was the other video screen they brought in twice just to use with a little hand held camera and then abandoned. And finally, Village brought in choreographer Sonia Dawkins for their own version of the stylized movement. However, there were two problems with it. First, it made no sense. The movement was odd for the sake of being odd but never meant or resolved into anything. And second, they had everyone doing the movement, including Christopher. If you're trying to accentuate the dichotomy of worlds between Christopher's and ours and have us see things the way he does and how odd the other world is then the other world needs to be foreign. But if he's doing the same stylized movement as everyone else then there's nothing foreign and there's no dichotomy. All of these things felt like so many bits and pieces brainstormed and thrown on stage but never fully thought out or polished.
The cast does what they can but seem to be fighting with the direction and with making the world different and feel under rehearsed at times. Krenning throws himself into the role and makes for a completely likable hero but falls into the inconsistency trap as well as his character wavers throughout the night a bit. James D. Sasser is a constant force of devotion as Christopher's Dad even if you don't always agree with his methods. Kathryn Van Meter as Christopher's Mother too shows the love she obviously has for her son even through some blatant mistakes in her past. And Jéhan Òsanyìn as Siobhan, Christopher's teacher, makes for a wonderful narrator and through line for the piece.
There are moments that work in the show and are quite affecting but too few and overshadowed with those moments that didn't work. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Village Theatre's production of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" an "over complicated and under prepared" MEH+. Simple is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you have such a strong script.
"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" performs at Village Theatre in Issaquah through April 21stand then moves to their Everett location running April 26thto May 19th. For tickets or information contact the Issaquah box office at 425-392-2202 or their Everett box office at 425-257-8600 or visit them online at www.villagetheatre.org.