Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time @ Playhouse Square, March 3--April 9, 2017

Review by Laura Kennelly

Gross: As we enter the Connor Palace theatre and look to the stage what greets our eyes? A dead dog impaled on a pitchfork. And that dog and its discovery triggers all subsequent action in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, turned into a play by Simon Stephens, is based on an excellent and engrossing novel of the same name by Mark Haddon. (I recommend the novel without reservation. It’s a fine hypothetical exploration of what it might be like to see the world through the eyes of a boy with autism.)

Director Marianne Elliott’s recreation of the world of Christopher Boone, our 15-year-old hero with an autism-related disorder, relies effectively on powerful scenic design and quietly expressive costumes (both created by Bunny Christie), stage-framing and defining lighting (by Paule Constable), and dramatic sound effects (by Ian Dickinson). [There’s a strobe light warning.] While not a typical Playhouse Square Broadway Series musical, in fact, not a musical at all, “Curious” delights in sound, light, and special effects (including a model train set, track lighting all over the sides, top, and bottom of the stage, live animals, post-curtain surprises, and near-sonic booms). There’s no attempt made to construct a realistic set, but rather to create one that reflects the world Christopher sees. It’s confusingly full of unexpected doors and storage cubicles. (The minimal furnishings are carried onstage by the actors as needed.)

Adam Langdon’s Christopher seems to represent a perfect innocent, but he’s also a strangely aggressive one who feels empowered when he believes his truth is “true” truth. He states matter of factly that he never lies (unlike everyone else he knows, as we come to see) and his tender heart is touched when he discovers the body of his neighbor’s dog. When the play opens, we see him kneeling beside its body; he’s sad, yet growing in determination to find out who could have done such a thing. Langdon adeptly portrays the lad’s righteous passion while also showing that the teen’s  growing physical powers, coupled with his ignorance concerning unspoken social contracts (be polite, don’t hit people) can make him hard to live with.

He lives with his father, Ed (Gene Gillette). Gillette’s tough-guy-with-a-heart portrayal of a single father who has tried to shelter his son from some unpleasant truths makes him an appealing character. Christopher’s teacher/therapist Siobhan (a nurturing Maria Elena Ramirez) offers the lad understanding and helps him deal with everyday realities. Of course Siobhan makes Christopher’s family look inept in comparison, but then, she has the freedom to refuse to live with him (as she does when he asks to come home with her). Unlike those responsible for his care, she gets a break at the end of the day.

As Christopher’s investigation continues he runs into other delightful characters, especially Charlotte Maier’s ultimately hilarious Mrs. Gascoyne, a woman who always says what you think she will.

The talented and versatile ensemble cast rotates around Christopher’s adventures. They switch persuasively, if dizzyingly, through roles as the quirky people our hero runs into as the story continues. The ensemble’s choreographed movements serve, at times, to help Christopher violate ordinary rules of gravity as well as create key elements in his eventual trip to London.
Ensemble members include the previously mentioned Maier, Ramirez, and Gillette, as well as Brian Robert Burns, John Hemphill, Geoffrey Wade, Francesca Choy-Kee, Amelia White, Felicity Jones Latta, Robyn Kerr, and J. Paul Nicholas. Dance and Fight Captain, Tim Wright should also be singled out for directing some necessary roughness.

Although I was lucky enough to see the play several years ago in London (where it was first produced), the changes made in the New York production have, while not changing the central impression, smoothed out and clarified elements important to the story lines. Still, while the relentless struggle of being a person with autism and living with a person with autism is sketched out dramatically, things seem a little too cute at times. It’s asking too much to really even begin to share the experience, which is likely why I highly recommend Haddon’s more immersive novel.

Bottom Line: A well-acted, splendidly assembled production that conveys a little of what it must be like to lack the ability to sort out and shut out all that daily living that dances before our eyes and ears.

Gene Gillette as Ed and Adam Langdon as Christopher Boone in the touring production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Photo: Joan Marcus

For tickets or more information about this Playhouse Square production to to or call 216-241-6000.

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