Based on British author Mark Haddon’s 2003 bestselling book of the same name, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time made its Olivier Award-winning transition to the London stage in 2013 and its Tony Award-winning debut stateside in 2014. Adapted for the stage by Simon Stephens, with direction by Marianne Elliott and a truly impressive combination of technical artistry brought to life by scenic and costume designer Bunny Christie, lights by Paule Constable, video design by Finn Ross, music by Adrian Sutton and sound design by Ian Dickinson for Autograph, the show, currently in the midst of a US National Tour, has set up shop in Nashville at TPAC’s Jackson Hall with shows from Tuesday, April 25 through Sunday, April 30.
Having read the book back in 2003, I was somewhat familiar with the story as it centers ‘round Christopher Boone, a teenage English boy with Asperger Syndrome who takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of a whodunit involving the death of a neighborhood dog. While the dialogue is almost word-for-word from the pages of the book, seeing it so creatively come to life courtesy the aforementioned behind-the-scenes creative team, as well as in the hands of the gifted acting company truly brings the story to a whole other level of imagination, entertainment and yes, perhaps even a glimmer of understanding what it must be like to live with the sensory overload-sensitive condition.
On the subject of the titular curious incident, the title comes from one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories, The Adventure of Silver Blaze, in which Holmes, during an investigation involving a racehorse’s disappearance, is questioned by a Scotland Yard detective who asks if there’s another point to which Holmes would like to draw his attention. Holmes replies, “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time”. The detective replies, “The dog did nothing in the night-time,” to which Holmes responds, “that was the curious incident”. You might be wondering what that’s to do with anything. Simply put—everything, and nothing. Christopher’s investigation of the dog’s death simply serves, as Alfred Hitchcock might have referred to it, as the MacGuffin, that is to say, Christopher’s search for the dog’s murderer may seem the ultimate goal of the play, but with that revelation coming just before intermission, it’s the circumstances leading up to the dog’s death and the further secrets hidden that are the true plot of the story.
Even before the play begins, the stage is visible, as is the shocking presence of the stated lifeless canine. In a gorgeous directorial touch, the same spot on the stage where the lifeless dog initially lies, is frequently where an overwhelmed Christopher curls up in fetal position in response to one overwhelming moment after another. The theme of the dog is revisited elsewhere amongst the play. When Christopher star-gazes, the first constellation that appears above is Canis Major—The Dog Star, known as the brightest of its type; a striking parallel for Christopher himself, who, though he suffers from Asperger’s, is a math genius. Even Christopher’s father recites a bit of dialogue describing the neighbor’s dog and “playful one minute and biting your leg the next,” alluding to Christopher’s personality—and likely—his own.
In the role of Christopher is recent Juilliard drama graduate, Adam Langdon (Benjamin Wheelwright also plays Christopher during select performances, having appeared in the role during the show’s original Broadway run). Langdon’s portrayal of Christopher is engaging from the start. Yes, because of the character’s condition, he is very childlike, but the logic-driven aspect of how a person with Asperger Syndrome approaches everyday life brings about a maturity far beyond young Christopher’s 15 years. Having had the pleasure of knowing friends with children with autism and Asperger’s, I was struck as how precise Langdon’s physicality in the role mirrored those who live with the difficulty of the communicative challenge.
Cast as Christopher’s estranged parents Ed and Judy are Gene Gillette and Felicity Jones Latta. When I recently chatted with these two actors, I asked Ed about playing such a seemingly unlikable character. Click Here to check out his answer. After seeing the play, I completely understand his response. On the surface, Ed Boone isn’t very likable, but when you consider the challenges he’s faced in raising a son with such severe social and communication anxiety, there’s an underlying compassion Gillette brings, not only into his character—where his love for his son is concerned—but also to his character from the standpoint of the audience witnessing their often-times tumultuous relationship.
Latta’s Judy, who left Christopher and his father before the play begins, reenters their lives to reconnect with her son. As Judy, Latta exemplifies the loving mother who seems to have chosen the role of friend over disciplinarian, likely in light of her son’s developmental difficulties.
Throughout the play, whenever Christopher gets overwhelmed and closes in on himself, there’s a very intimate physical gesture that both his parents do that calms him—they simply hold their outstretched hand toward him and, once calm enough, he reaches out to mirror that action. In those moments, the inseparable, alway-present connection between a parent and child, no matter the circumstances, it one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever witnessed within a theatrical performance.
Other notable members of the company include Maria Elena Ramirez as Siobhan, Christopher’s social skills instructor and friend and Amelia White as The Boone’s elderly neighbor.
Much like Christopher’s parents, Siobhan has been able to break through Christopher’s reactionary shut-down. Interestingly, while present in the book, Siobhan’s role in the play has been greatly expanded. While the book is told through Christopher’s own words, on the stage, it’s Siobhan who narrates, as she’s reading a book Christopher has written entailing his pursuit of the guilty part in the aforementioned death of the neighbor’s dog.
Amelia White’s Mrs. Alexander is the personification of the sweet old lady. She tries and tries to convince Christopher she’s his friend, but because of his logic-focused mind, he sees her as a stranger—and all children are taught not to talk to strangers. Not even her offer of tea and Battenberg cake can convince him otherwise. Of course her surprising, and not-so-accidental, revelation to Christopher that his mother may not be the innocent he believes her to be, adds another layer to the story, and to White’s portrayal of Mrs. Alexander.
Christopher’s mind, which the audiences is privy to by way of the aforementioned set and technical aspects of the show, becomes yet another character. Throughout the show, the video walls come to life with Christopher’s thoughts, dream and fears. One of the most memorable scenes in which the set becomes the focus involves Christopher’s thoughts on the stars and how the night sky is both freeing and isolating. Without use of hidden harnesses or Peter Pan-esque ‘flying’ techniques, members of the ensemble lift Christopher high above as he appears to float in space—An absolutely breathtaking moment in the play.
As effortlessly as the multimedia screens allow Christopher to escape, they also frighteningly bring his uncertainties to life. This is perfectly exemplified at the top of the play, when, without the usual dimming of the houselights, booming layer upon layer of noise breaks through the theatre’s sound system with strobe lights flashing, shocking the audience’s system into what we later realize just might be what it’s like when someone with Asperger’s Syndrome finds themself in a stressful situation. Later in the play, Christopher ventures out on his own to travel by train the first time. The overwhelming bustle of the crowd, the sights and sounds of the railway station, when given full consideration, would inundate even the most socially secure of us. It’s that balance of innocence presented alongside the juxtaposition of discovering the unknown that makes this play as personal and introspective as it is outwardly, perceptibly mesmerizing.
As visually stimulating as it is thought-provoking, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is truly unlike any other theatrical experience I’ve witnessed. With sensory-overload technology to rival Blue Man Group and a unique perspective into the life of someone whose physical and emotional challenges are oddly reminiscent of the thoughtful beauty of The Elephant Man, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is not to be missed.
The National Touring company of Broadway’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time will be presented at TPAC’s Jackson Hall with shows running Tuesday, April 25 through Sunday, April 30. Evening performances Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday evening performances begin at 8 p.m. Sunday performances are at 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tickets range in price from $22 to $68. Click Here to purchase tickets.
Can’t make it to Nashville? Not to worry…the show continues its National Tour with dates through September visiting cities from Detroit, Des Moines, Denver, Tempe and San Francisco to Seattle, Los Angeles, Costa Mesa and Las Vegas. Click Here for remaining tour dates and tickets. Follow the show on Facebook and Twitter.
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