Autism would not be on my top ten list of subjects to attract me to the theatre. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is yet another reminder of why theatre is a temple. This production is a reminder that theatre is not about the subject matter. It is about the experiencing the electricity of life hammering through you like a locomotive.
Christopher (a very fine Alex Sharp in his Broadway debut) is autistic, age 15, and has discovered his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, dead with a pitchfork lodged in his left side. We learn this through his teacher Siobhan (Francesca Faridany who gives a delicate and incisive performance) who is reading from Christopher’s book, and commenting on it as she goes – This is good Christopher. It’s quite exciting. I like the details. They make it more realistic. Immediately we know this tale is looking back at us. It knows we are watching.
In short order Christopher is “arrested” – more for clobbering a police officer who tries to touch him than for the dog. Christopher did not kill the dog. He does not lie. While there are many things of which he is uncertain, he knows he does not lie. He also knows that he knows a lot of things that other folks don’t. Math, mainly. He also knows that he sees where others only bounce a glance off something.
If he had his druthers he would go up into space with his pet rat, Toby, and have the universe all to himself.
Back on planet earth, however, it is a different story. The facts are that Christopher gets on well enough with his father, Ed (Ian Barford), but he still misses his mother Judy (Enid Graham) who has been dead for several years. Home life is on the empty side. Therefore, having been accused of a crime he did not commit, Christopher decides to track down Wellington’s killer. He forces himself to speak to strangers in the neighborhood, and we can feel the herculean effort he dedicates to this project. He is a young man on a mission. Terror will not stop him. Neither will his father’s command to leave Wellington’s death alone.
In a brilliant plot twist, Christopher’s trail turns into a spiral that leads to a confrontation with his father and a decision to go to London on his own.
The first act is a play in itself that concludes with a bang of an Ahah! The second act is less of a writing success but is buoyed up by the first, plot wise. Technically, however, it is dazzling and speeds past with the velocity of a jet. I have never seen projections, lights and sets put trough their paces in so intricate and seemingly effortless fashion. The walls adorned with graph paper design slide in and out, reveal hidden pantry doors, and change from vertical to horizontal with the aid of this cast. The lights are like live sculpture. The sound sucks you in to Christopher’s center as he makes his way through the maze of London to his destination.
Christopher may wish his life happened in a vacuum but it doesn’t. Which is precisely why it can be told. This boy hurtles from pillar to post for nearly two hours, and because of Marianne Elliott’s extraordinary direction we are able not only to hang on, but to find a seat and admire the view.
As a friend who was there said, “This isn’t a musical, but it still is choreographed.” Indeed. This ensemble cast is one cohesive unit that is ever present. They obstruct, they support, they guide, the challenge, they comment. They haul themselves up into the stratosphere of story and take us with them. Just as it is the entire world that appears to assault Christopher, it is the entire world of this cast and technical elements that makes this story all of a piece. It is the ensemble that transforms the story into magic. Poof.
Mr. Stephens does not tie this story up in a lovely bow at the end. As the story concludes, Christopher and Siobhan acknowledge his bravery, his book, and the play that came out of it, which is drawing to a close as they stand there. When Christopher finally asks what this all means for his future, the question is clearly meant for us. We have become part of the tale.
We leaved the theatre the better for it.
Bravo! Drinks all around.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
By Simon Stephens, based on the novel by Mark Haddon; directed by Marianne Elliott
WITH: Alex Sharp (Christopher Boone), Taylor Trensch (alternate Christopher Boone), Francesca Faridany (Siobhan/Ensemble), Ian Barford (Ed/Ensemble), Enid Graham (Judy/Ensemble), Helen Carey (Mrs. Alexander/Posh Woman/Voice Six/Ensemble), Mercedes Herrero (Mrs. Shears/Mrs. Gascoyne/Woman on Train/Shopkeeper/Voice One/Ensemble), Richard Hollis (Roger Shears/Duty Sergeant/Mr. Wise/Man Behind Counter/Drunk One/Voice Two/Ensemble), Ben Horner (Mr. Thompson/Policeman 1/Drunk Two/Man With Socks/London Policeman/Voice Three/Ensemble), Jocelyn Bioh (No. 37/Lady in Street/Information/Punk Girl/Voice Five/Ensemble), David Manis (Reverend Peters/Uncle Terry/Station Policeman/Station Guard/Voice Four/Ensemble), and Keren Dukes, Stephanie Roth Haberle, Tom Patrick Stephens and Tim Wright (Ensemble).
Sets and costumes by Bunny Christie; lighting by Paul Constable; video design by Finn Ross; choreography by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly; music by Adrian Sutton; sound by Ian Dickinson for Autograph; hair and wig design by David Brian Brown; associate directors, Benjamin E. Klein and Katy Rudd; production stage manager, Kristen Harris; associate producers, Franki de la Vega and Kevin Emrick; production manager, Aurora Productions; general manager, Bespoke Theatricals. A National Theater production, presented by Stuart Thompson, Tim Levy for NT America, Warner Brothers Theater Ventures, Nick Starr and Chris Harper for NT Productions, Bob Boyett, Roger Berlind, Scott M. Delman, Roy Furman, Glass Half Full Productions, Ruth Hendel, Jon B. Platt, Prime Number Group, Scott Rudin, Triple Play Broadway and the Shubert Organization. At the Ethel Barrymore Theater, 243 West 47th Street, Manhattan, 212-239-6200, telecharge.com. Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes.