On Tuesday, April 25, the National Tour of Broadway’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time comes to TPAC’s Jackson Hall to bring their multi-Tony Award-winning drama about a young math genius—who appears to be on the autism spectrum—as he takes it upon himself to investigate the death of a neighbor’s pet. Adapted for the stage by Simon Stephens, based on the bestselling novel by Mark Haddon and directed by Marianne Elliott (War Horse), the tour, which began in September 2016, stars young actors Adam Langdon and Benjamin Wheelwright—alternating in the lead role as Christopher John Francis Boone. Among the boys’ co-stars are Gene Gillette and Felicity Jones Latta who play the Christopher’s estranged parents Ed and Judy Boone. As cast and crew prepared for opening night in Nashville, I recently had an opportunity to chat with Gillette and Latta for my latest Rapid Fire Q&A.
Up first, I had the chance to pose a few questions to Gillette. After studying acting at Colorado University at Boulder, Gillette received a Masters in Classical Acting at Shakespeare Theatre’s Academy at George Washing University. The recipient of three Best Actor Ovation Awards, Gillette has appeared in numerous productions, including Berkley Rep’s 2016 production of MacBeth starring Conleth Hill and Frances McDormand, Theatreworks’ A Streetcar Named Desire and the National Tour of War Horse.
Rapid Fire with Gene Gillette, Ed Boone in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
JONATHAN PINKERTON: How familiar were you with the play prior to joining the touring cast?
GENE GILLETTE: I was very familiar with the show. I had played the father in the National Tour of War Horse which was also directed by Marianne Elliott so I was keeping my eyes out for anything else she might be a part of. I love her work so much. I think it’s really the most innovative work in the theatre right now. I was doing a show at Berkeley Rep when I heard about the tour so I went out and bought the book and then went and saw the Broadway production as soon as I returned to NY. Then I just worked as hard as I could to get an audition and was lucky enough to be cast!
JP: As Christopher’s father, you play what might be perceived as a rather unlikeable character. How challenging is that?
GENE GILLETTE: Oh, I don’t think he’s unlikeable. I think he’s a man who loves his son very much and has been put in a position where he doesn’t have a lot of resources to raise a son like Christopher. His wife is gone and I think you can see in the play that the schools aren’t providing a lot of help. Yes, he’s made a few big mistakes in his life but who hasn’t?
JP: What do you see as Ed’s most redeeming qualities?
GENE GILLETTE: I think he has several. I guess the biggest would be his love for his son. He never leaves him. He always has his back. Whether it’s fighting for him to take the A star test or trying to provide a comfortable place for him to grow up in. This is a man who has started his own company, provides for his family and is thrust into this world of trying to raise a son who has a huge amount of difficulties. And he’s given no help along the way. But he never shrinks away from that challenge and I have a huge amount of respect for him.
JP: Young actors Adam Langdon and Benjamin Wheelwright share the role of Christopher. Do you feel a responsibility to be a mentor to the younger cast members?
GENE GILLETTE: I don’t know if mentor would be the right word. Adam and Ben are two very strong, talented young actors who have trained at two of the best training programs in the world. I think I just try to be a friend and a good cast-mate. Of course I’d love to be there if they need any help but I don’t know if I have a ton that I could teach them. I’ve really loved all that I’ve learned from them. It’s such a pleasure to get the chance to share a stage with two VERY different but equally talented Christopher’s. It definitely keeps you on your toes!
JP: Speaking of mentors, within the context of the play, Christopher finds a mentor in Siobhan (Maria Elena Ramirez). When you were young, did you have a mentor who helped shape your ideals about life and society?
GENE GILLETTE: I’ve been so lucky in this life to have been blessed with some really amazing mentors and teachers along the way. I guess the biggest would be Chip Walton. He’s the Artistic Director of Curious Theatre Company in Colorado. He kind of plucked me out obscurity when I didn’t have a lot of direction in life and really helped to give me purpose and to show me how great a life in the theatre can be. I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with him on 4 shows and all of them rank right up there as some the most rewarding productions I’ve been a part of. Whether it was Coyote on a Fence, a play about the death penalty and whether revenge is ever justified that opened the Friday after 9/11, or just an all out gore fest laugh riot of a play like Lt. of Inishmore his plays mean a lot to me. He was responsible for helping me get into college when I didn’t really have any opportunities to. And he was also very helpful when I returned to Colorado after getting chewed up and spit out by NY and LA the first times I went to those cities. He’s been a tremendous friend and a huge inspiration. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention my teachers Gary Logan, Sean Kelley, Michael Kahn, Catherine Weidner and, of course, my wife Laura Tesman and my own Dad Gene Gillette Sr.
Next, it was time to chat with Felicity Jones Latta. From what my research revealed, Latta added her married name to her profession name to set herself apart from that other Felicity Jones. Growing up in Minnesota, she studied acting at Minneapolis’ renown Children’s Theatre Company and was a longtime artist associate with the regional company Theatre de la Jeune Lune where she co-wrote and performed in Crusoe, Friday and the Island of Hope and others. Eventually making the move to the East Coast, Latta appeared Off-Broadway in productions of As You Like It, The Captain’s Tiger and Measure for Measure. She made her Broadway debut starring in Metamorphoses. In 2014, she was recipient of the prestigious Lunt-Fontanne Fellow.
Rapid Fire with Felicity Jones Latta, Judy Boone in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
JP: Tell me about your character?
Felicity Jones Latta: Judy Boone is a bit of a free spirit, a bit volatile, immature, and the mother of an extraordinary boy named Christopher. She loves him very much but is ill-equipped to deal with his peculiarities.
JP: From what I understand this is your first National Tour. Having been in Nashville during his time with the touring company of War Horse, has Gene offered any suggestions on what to take in while here in Nashville?
Felicity Jones Latta: We have a very busy week in Nashville with a lot of press appointments and rehearsals on top of our full performance schedule. These are Gene’s words: “I don’t care, I’m listening to live music and drinking bourbon!” I’m with him. (By the way, I was in Nashville briefly about 20 years ago and that’s what I did then, too!).
JP: What do you like most about Judy Boone?
Felicity Jones Latta: She owns her mistakes. She knows she’s made big ones and she knows she’s flawed but she keeps trying to make things right.
JP: Among the Tony Awards the show won during its Broadway debut season was the award for set design. What’s your favorite technical aspect of the show?
Felicity Jones Latta: I love how the set, which is an empty black gridded box, can become everything in Christopher’s mind: the good things and the terrifying things. The lighting, projection, and sound design are out of this world. But there’s a low-tech aspect that I love even more: the ensemble of actors who help to create Christopher’s reality by transforming the space with their bodies, lifting and moving him in a complex and spectacular choreography, and becoming all the characters he meets.
JP: What do you hope audiences take away after seeing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time?
Felicity Jones Latta: If you met someone like Christopher on the street you might find it difficult to get to know him. This show lets us in to his world and hopefully allows us to empathize with him. If we can empathize with this boy in a play, maybe we’ll try harder to empathize with other people in our lives who seem different or difficult. Wouldn’t that be a nice take-away?!
With that my conversations with Gillette and Latta came to a close, with such interesting responses, I myself and more curious than ever to see these two and the rest of their cast on stage. The National Touring company of Broadway’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time sets up house in Nashville 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.
If you’ve enjoyed this latest installment of my recurring celebrity interview feature, Rapid Fire, Click Here to catch up on previous conversations and be sure to subscribe to Nashville Arts Critic by entering your email address in the “Subscribe” section to the right of this article. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumbler.