BWW Review: THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME at SOUTH BEND CIVIC THEATRE
To add to their stellar season of plays, South Bend Civic presented The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. This play about a fifteen year-old English boy going on an investigation to discover who committed the murder of his neighbor's dog, is an extremely well-crafted and witty script that has not been tackled in South Bend until this year. Christopher, the main-character, also happens to be on the autism spectrum, leading to other causalities and dilemmas between the adults in his life. The whole show helps the audience experience the perspective of Christopher in his endeavors.
Walking into the Civic's blackbox Warner theatre was entrancing even though the minimalist set appeared to be to black walls and a grid on the floor creating an alley where audience members sat on each side. This simple yet very effective set, by William Loring and Aaron Nichols, held hidden intricacies and played into the technical aspect of the show which is revealed as the play progresses.
One of the two major show-stealers, in my opinion, is the direction by Aaron Nichols and staging by Chloe Ilene and Jeffrey Wallace. The blocking and organization of character movement is nothing short of astonishing to watch. The solid, specific lifts and movement of characters help show Christopher's feelings toward the people around him. There are also moments where simple movements set the atmosphere for the audience and display where each scene takes place. The cast never changes the set and yet the stage effortlessly turns into a subway, park, or schoolhouse without hesitation.
The other show-stealer is every other technical aspect. The lighting and sound design creates wonderful examples for the audience of how Christopher's disorder affects his interactions with people. It is strikingly human and can be very powerful. Patrick Quigley, a live musician working sound effects along with a synthesizer, added a very fun and orderly beat to exemplify the inner workings of Christopher's mind. These technical aspects changed the production from a show into an experience.
This is not to take away from the actors, because they were all wonderful in their own respective roles. The whole cast does a splendid job of working off of one another to create smooth transitions and match the tone of each scene impeccably. Tonya Farling, Mark Roeda, Mark MacRae-Waggoner, William Loring, Sydney Conner, and Mary Ann Moran all add realistic performances that make you forget you are watching a show. Their deep, personal choices mixed with the intimate set create the illusion that you are in the midst of each moment.
Louis Arata and Darlene Hampton play Christopher's unstable mother and father. Arata and Hampton both do a spectacular job of highlighting the dysfunctional relationship the parents have with their son by showing the struggle of how to show their genuine love to Christopher in the middle of difficult and stressful times.
Another highlight of the show was Melissa Manier as Siobhan, one of Christopher's teachers. Manier effortlessly plays the character with a soft, caring presence, and shows all of the character's thoughts on her face. These facial expressions are what take some of the final moments of the show into the completion of its emotional arc.
Though Christopher was double-casted, I was only able to see Jon Mayer's performance. In the show, Mayer masterfully carries the audience through the story and also holds the emotional heart of the story. The character was well-researched, especially when looking at how well Christopher's mannerisms were executed in the face of tense or aggressive situations - such as pursing his lips, rocking back and forth, and holding back shouts. He reacts realistically. Nothing is played for laughs or for drama; everything is played with authenticity to the character which is admirable and executed brilliantly.
I had two complaints when seeing the show. The first, which was very minor, being the contrast between the obviously British sayings and more western accents was slightly confusing at times - though I will admit that is a preferable option compared to poor accents. The second being that the space was so intimate; there were moments I could hear the cast talking backstage. This is a show that requires complete focus and attention from the audience to catch intricacies, and hearing cast members murmur behind the curtain hurt the effectiveness and the illusion of the show.
Overall, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime was a powerful and unique theatrical experience that was well executed in all of the array of emotions it presented. The talented cast and creative team collaborated effectively and created a powerful performance piece.
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME continues performances through November 17th, 2019 at the South Bend Civic Theatre. Tickets are available at the South Bend Civic Theatre, online at www.sbct.org, or by calling (574)234-1112.
Photo Credits: Santiago Flores