Smart Review: THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME

I reviewed Broadway’s newest hit! And I liked it. Check it out below or over at TheatreIsEasy.com!

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Helen Carey, Mercedes Herrero, Jocelyn Bioh, Alex Sharp, Richard Hollis, David Manis, and Ben Horner in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Photo by Joan Marcus.

BOTTOM LINE: Powerful visual language turns an idiosyncratic perspective into a stirring and imaginative theatrical adaptation.

Christopher, the 15-year old narrator of Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, does not see the world the way most people see it. The book’s first-person perspective allows readers an intimate glimpse into the mind of someone who would in diagnostic terms be dubbed a high-functioning autistic teenager. How lucky — and how extraordinary — that the stage can transport an entire audience into that visceral, chaotic, and incredibly distinct mindset, and challenge not only our awareness of such disorders, but also the limits of theater itself.

Most responsible for the power of Curious Incident’s stage adaptation, opening October 5th in a Broadway transfer from London’s National Theatre, are surely its designers. Paule Constable’s lighting and Finn Ross’ video design in particular offer proof that theater and visual technology can together elevate a story to dazzling heights. Three towering walls depicting a mathematician’s grid double as a kind of LED grid on steroids, projecting the multitudinous contents of Christopher’s brain everywhere; constellations, diagrams, and maps materialize above and around the actors. For those of us accustomed to high-concept designs involving little more than an impeccably detailed set or elaborate costumes, this show’s breathtaking effects never get old. This is particularly true during Christopher’s harrowing journey on the London Underground. You may never carelessly step into a subway car again.

Playwright Simon Stephens includes most of the elements from Haddon’s book, which, other than said Underground journey and the garden fork-skewered pooch referenced in the title, offer little in the way of plot. Christopher (Alex Sharp, in a staggering Broadway debut) spends the first act trying to solve the mystery of Wellington the dog’s murder, and the second enmeshed in domestic disputes he can’t comprehend. As someone who decries metaphor (“I think it should be called a lie, because a pig is not like a day and people do not have skeletons in their cupboards”), and who cannot process stimuli in a cursory, big-picture manner, our hero is aware of — but not fully attuned to — the grown-up issues and secrets surrounding him. Continue reading

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