Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following review of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME at The Bushnell
I always have had a rather sizeable place in my heart for people with special abilities. I grew up with and adored an aunt who has a severe intellectual impairment; in college and grad school I sought out the field of psychology and have worked with individuals in numerous settings who have faced a variety of cognitive and emotional challenges. Something that I find both fascinating and even delightful at times, however, is often those who are differently-abled have quite unique perspectives – the manners in which they think, behave, interpret, and even experience life. And their individually distinct approaches also may provide opportunities for others to open up and see the world in a way that is beautifully unlike their own.
This is exceptionally well illustrated in The National Theatre production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time which recently toured at Hartford’s The Bushnell, directed by Marianne Elliott. Adapted by Simon Stephens, the play is based on the 2003 Mark Haddon British mystery novel and chronicles the efforts of mathematically gifted 15-year-old Christopher Boone who begins a journey to investigate the stabbing death of his neighbor’s poodle, Wellington. Found under suspicious circumstances at the scene of the crime, he seeks both to find the culprit as well as to clear his own name. He collects facts, writing his findings in a special notebook; and in doing so, a number of other interesting matters also surface which impact him and his family. While it is not at any time stated explicitly in the play, Christopher displays a number characteristics indicative of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – but that merely suggests that he may or may not have it.
Christopher sees the world in his own way – an idiosyncratic perception steeped in the false dilemma of stark black or white. He has behavioral issues and doesn’t connect easily or well with many others. He misinterprets and is misinterpreted. He’s also quick to become overwhelmed by touch or other stimuli when it is loud, harsh, or from multiple sources at once – overload which may lead to his lashing out or going into complete withdrawal. Stephens’ Curious Incident is a brilliant adaptation for the stage which utilizes unique, intelligent, energetic (bordering on frenetic) casting, staging, and choreography, punctuated by impressive audio and visual multimedia elements; and it successfully transports the audience into Christopher’s intriguing and puzzling world and mind. Through it all, there often is intentional cacophony and dissonance on stage which are quite impactful, even powerful – leaving us all a bit bewildered, even raw, as one would expect Christopher to feel every time he himself encounters something new, something challenging, or anything which falls outside of his comfort zone.
With the exception of gifted young actor Adam Langdon’s masterful portrayal of the socially maladroit, vulnerable Christopher, Stephens implements a jumbled and almost jarring device wherein all of the other actors play multiple roles, often lingering at the stage’s perimeter, even switching from one to another character right in front of the audience – for example, Charlotte Maier simply and pointedly changes her shoes to alternate back-and-forth between Mrs. Shears, Wellington’s owner, and Mrs. Gascoyne, Christopher’s snippy school principal. (Maier also plays Woman on Train, Shopkeeper, Voice One, and Ensemble.) The cast constantly flits about, picking up and moving white crates, opening and closing doors, all set against perfect linear, floor-to-ceiling, graph-like projections. It is busy, bustling, and chaotic – an ever-changing, rich social landscape requiring contextual thinking in sharp contrast to Christopher’s strictly logical, analytical mind.
As is common with many parents of children with disabilities, we come to learn that Christopher’s issues (among other things) have impacted the marriage. Throughout the play, these pieces fall into place in an unexpected manner. Tim Wright as dad, Ed, (who took the stage as the understudy, and also was Dance and Fight Captain and Ensemble) is phenomenal as the mostly patient caregiver whose efforts to do right by his son are sometimes misguided. Felicity Jones Latta is spot-on as mom, Judy, (and Ensemble) who differs in her capabilities in coping with her son’s unique needs. Maria Elena Ramirez is a stand-out as Siobhan, Christopher’s indefatigable, compassionate teacher.
Other notable performances by the rest of the cast are: Brian Robert Burns as Mr. Thompson, Policeman 1, Drunk Two, Man with Socks, London Policeman, Voice Three, and Ensemble; John Hemphill as Roger Shears, Duty Sergeant, Mr. Wise, Man Behind the Counter, Drunk One, Voice Two, and Ensemble; Geoffrey Wade as Reverend Peters, Uncle Terry, Station Policeman, Station Guard, Voice Four, and Ensemble; Francesca Choy-Kee as No. 37, Lady in Street, Information, Punk Girl, Voice Five, and Ensemble; Amelia White as Mrs. Alexander, Posh Woman, Voice Six, and Ensemble; and Robyn Ker and J. Paul Nicholas both as Ensemble.
Kudos to the entire crew as well: to Bunny Christie for knock-down, drag-out incredible and imaginative scenic and costume design; Paule Constable and Finn Ross for exceptional lighting and video design, respectively; Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett (for Frantic Assembly) for magnificent, inventive choreography; Adrian Sutton for music; Ian Dickinson (for Autograph) for sound design; David Brian Brown for hair design; and Daniel Swee, C.S.A. and Cindy Tolan, C.S.A. for casting.
Any opportunity to illuminate social issues, educate, and instill acceptance gets an A-plus in my book. But Curious Incident is that and more – it is ingenious, it is heartwarming, and it is often surprising. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you just may not want it to end – so stick around a few extra minutes. You’ll be glad you did!
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (from here forward I will refer to it as Curious Incident) is indeed a curious gem of a play. It is difficult to adapt a novel into a play in great part because the only limitations that a book has is one’s own imagination. The novel is about a young man with Autistic Spectrum Disorder who sets out to solve the murder of a neighbor’s dog, Wellington, and, in the process, pushes himself beyond his comfort zone to find his long lost mother. The title pays homage to Sherlock Holmes and is in fact a direct quote from Arthur Conan’s Doyle short story “Silver Blaze.” The novel is written in the first-person narrative style and, muck like sections in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, readers get insight into the thought processes of the main character.
Simon Stephens did an incredible job of adapting the book to a stage version by allowing the audience to see inside the mind of the play’s main character, Christopher Boone. In so doing, Mr. Stephens restructured the source material in the novel into a play within a play by having Boone’s own writing adapted by his teacher and mentor, Siobhan, into a play. Through segments read by Siobhan of Boone’s thoughts, we are able to obtain an insight into boy’s mind and understand his thought process. Though he has ASD (his exact diagnosis is never mentioned in the play; the novel does refer to Asperger’s Syndrome), he is a high-functioning, mathematical genius who thinks in terms of prime numbers. His social skills, however, are lacking, and he is in constant fear of loud noises and being touched. The inner workings of his mind are facilitated by the multimedia special effects that occur throughout the play and often show his thoughts via both visual graphics and audio cues. Without giving away spoilers, we learn a great deal about Christopher and his relationships with his father, mother, and mentor. And yes, we do learn who killed poor Wellington – but my lips are sealed.
Every aspect of the production was tantamount to Broadway caliber: including but not limited to the directing, staging and blocking (Marianne Elliott); scenic and costume design (Bunny Christie); lighting design (Paulie Constable); video design (Finn Ross), and music (Adrian Sutton). Casting was brilliant (Daniel Swee, CSA and Cindy Tolan, CSA).
Adam Langdon was knock-down-drag-out great as the ASD-afflicted Christopher. His body language was even more revealing of his thought processes and condition than his dialogue (not that his dialogue wasn’t excellent). After seeing this performance, I would have to place him in the same acting league as two other fellow Brits who also are wonderful actors: Eddie Redmayne and Domnhall Gleeson. On the night we saw the play, understudy Tim Wright (who is also Dance Captain and Fight Captain) played the part of Christopher’s father, Ed Boone. He was flawless in his portrayal, conveying just the right mix of strength, sensibility, and vulnerability to the role. He also had a commanding presence whenever he was on stage. Maria Elena Ramirez as Cristopher’s mentor, Siobhan, and Felicity Jones Latta as Christopher’s mother, Judy, were both spot-on. Kudos also must go to the Principals and the entire Ensemble who double, triple and even quadrupled characters including: Amelia White, Charlotte Maier, John Hemphill, Brian Robert Burns, Francesca Choy-Kee, Geoffrey Wade, Josephine Hall, Robyn Kerr, Tim McKiernan, and J. Paul Nicholas.
And a special shout out to the biggest scene stealer in the show who (with his wrangler) was uncredited: Sandy – Christopher’s puppy. W.C. Fields was wrong – how can you not like a show with children and animals?!
According to Mark Haddon, author of Curious the novel, “[it] is not about a book about Asperger’s. It’s a novel whose central character describes himself as a ‘mathematician with some behavioral difficulties.’…if anything it’s a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way. It’s as much a novel about us as it is about christiopher [sic].
Thanks to playwright Simon Stephens and director Marianne Elliot, the same can be said about the play. They captured the quintessential nature, characters and themes of the book and made them extremely suitable for a theatrical venue. Like Christopher, play detective, investigate where the play is being performed and go see it.