The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon becomes a magnificent experience in the hands of playwright Simon Stephens. The play follows the path of 15-year-old Christopher Boone (adroitly played by Adam Langdon) a brilliant young man who has difficulty with everyday life. Accused of killing a neighbor’s dog, Christopher is determined to find the real culprit. His investigation reveals explosive facts that will send him on a life-altering journey.
From the moment one enters the theater, one is aware this will be a remarkable experience. The set appears to be some sort of electronic grid cube, framed by lights. In the center of the stage lies a dead dog. There is no curtain, just dimmed house lights followed by the sudden appearance of a stream of harsh light illuminating Christopher and the dog center stage. Indeed, throughout the play, light and sound eloquently describe the way Christopher perceives the world around him. The grid serves as the canvas for cascades of numbers and words and maps and drawings, among other effects, that are used to include the audience in his sensory journey. When he is overwhelmed by stimuli, the audience is bombarded with visual and aural information. When he is hyper-focused, the light follows the subject of his focus.
Around the perimeter of the set sit the ensemble players. At first, I found this annoying because I think it’s quickly becoming a tired bit of staging, but I soon forgot my annoyance as they continually popped into the action as characters or doors or doormats. They make make it possible for Christopher to fly through space and play the parts of those with whom he interacts on his quest.
Siobhan, played by Maria Elena Ramirez, is ever-present in Christoper’s life and mind. Her melodic voice is the first we hear reading the words of the book he’s writing about his detective work, and it mingles with his own voice as we weave through his memories and experiences. Her voice is soothing and calming, always looking for what’s best.
Ed, Christopher’s father, struggles with the warring feelings of angst and joy that come with raising a difficult boy. Gene Gillette played the character well, but as others in the cast sou outstandingly embodied their characters, his acting petticoats showed at times, and I found myself distracted by his skillful work rather than being immersed in his portrayal.
I keep coming back to the brilliant design of the set. A clean stage provided a canvas for projected locations. From invisible doors, players appeared, and unseen cubbies and drawers brightly disgorged their contents when needed. The book was magnetic. The acting, superb. But the other production elements – the set, the lighting, the sound – provided the rich setting in which they could shine.
If you have the opportunity, don’t miss this show. And a hint: there’s a treat shortly after the curtain call!
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Part of the Broadway Series
AT&T Performing Arts Center