Dallas — From the moment the young man rushes onto the darkened stage, falls to his knees and wraps his arms around the limp form of a dog, we are swept into the idiosyncratic mindset of Christopher Boone, a 15-year old math whiz who hates being touched, believes metaphors are grownup lies and trusts only in the veracity of numbers.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which won five Tony Awards in 2015, including Best Play, is a Broadway Series production currently onstage at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. Simon Stephens’ hit play is based on the best-selling 2003 novel by British writer Mark Haddon, which chronicles the quest by Christopher, a teenager with symptoms often associated with children on the autism spectrum, to solve a dog’s murder.
Stephens’ play, which has been performed to critical and popular accolades in London since 2012, began performances on Broadway in 2014, and is currently touring in the U.S. and Britain. Early on, film rights for the novel were optioned by Brad Pitt for Warner Brothers. This murder mystery is so appealing to such a wide audience because it comes to dramatic grips with the profoundly human dilemma of how we all filter the world through our own perceptions, and grasp desperately for some sense of unity through our brains and through our hearts.
What’s unique about this fascinating and poignant coming-of-age story is the surprising hero—bright, quirky Christopher, portrayed here by a thin and angular Adam Langdon, an actor with athletic process who projects a glowing innocence. Langdon’s Christopher is arrogant and difficult, but he makes us feel the boy’s personal delight when he scores high marks on a math exam, and his wrenching pain as he curls into a fetal ball on discovering a chest of secret letters.
Sometimes Christopher’s social inadequacies are comically revealing. He grouses to his patient school counselor Siobhan (an elegantly articulate Maria Elena Ramirez) that adults are confusing because “they keep telling you to be quiet, but they don’t say for how long.” If an instruction or action can’t be weighed and measured quantitatively, then it’s just stupid and confounding. Of course, the kindly intentioned social lie or the story his father fabricates to protect his son’s fragile innocence is judged by the same strict yardstick.
Directed with sensitivity and thoughtfulness by Marianne Elliott, who also co-directed the heartstring-tugger War Horse, the production features the award-winning work of the design team that transports us into the sensory world Christopher inhabits. Scenic and costume designer Bunny Christie places all the action inside a stage-size cube covered with electronic graph paper to indicate Christopher’s numeric take on his surroundings.
Finn Ross designed the video projections that follow our brave but bizarrely equipped hero into the underworld of London’s subway system. Paula Constable’s throbbing lighting design spreads onto the audience, and makes us feel Christopher’s sensory overload, as he tries to figure out what door to enter while the trains move in and out of a great city’s nether regions. he story is woven together by Adrian Sutton’s searing score and a dramatic sound design by Ian Dickinson for Autograph. Some moments are frighteningly close to home. Who hasn’t felt lost and abandoned when the last people on the platform have boarded a train, and you’re uncertain if you’re even in the right station?
The deeply physical and inspired choreography, by Scott Graham and Stephen Hoggett with Frantic Assembly, pull the characters together to carry Christopher up the walls along his mathematical path, or lift him aloft when he momentarily crumbles. The dance moves alone tell a deeply human story of how people can work together to help each other.
The entire 12-member cast move in and out of Christopher’s sight and hearing with sophisticated simplicity, all playing their part in his search for a dog’s killer, a quest in which he discovers a part of himself that surprises everyone.
Gene Gillette is both strong and vulnerable as Christopher’s father Ed, a longtime single parent loving this hard-to-love child who loathes the touch of human hands and throws up a stony wall of resistance to any bodily warmth or emotional overtures. Gillette’s Ed is steadfast in the face of his son’s peculiarities, talking the nearly unconscious Christopher through the process of taking off a jacket after the distraught boy has collapsed and vomited on himself. When you see this play, you also realize the implicit respect and boundless devotion required of parents who care for a child who loves prime numbers and a pet rat above all else. Not to miss.
» The AT&T Center is presenting a series of free chat-backs following some performances of The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Nigh-Time. These expert-led conversations will focus on learning differences, adolescence and family. Check www.atpac.org for dates and details.
» There is also an Industry Night, co-presented with TheaterJones, on Tuesday, Jan. 17. Discounted tickets include reception with the cast, and giveaways. Go here for more info and tickets.