Theater Review: THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME (North American Tour)

by Frank Arthur on August 4, 2017

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours

Post image for Theater Review: THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME (North American Tour)

DETECTING LOVE

A 15-year-old math whiz, Christopher is an only child with Asperger’s Syndrome. The anomaly is enough to push adolescence way beyond awkward. His autism manifests in manic multi-tasking, an inability to focus (or to lie), attention deficits, a maddening literal-mindedness, and a disarming directness that both shames and irritates adults with secrets. Afraid to be touched, this devotee of Sherlock Holmes is only comfortable with fixed, reliable entities, like quantities and equations. But even in a world of things, the right searcher can find values and even emotions.

A wanna-be bloodhound, the British teen is the unlikely hero of Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel and Simon Stephens’s equally valued play. He’s a driven discoverer. The pseudo-sleuth may exaggerate details but misses nothing. In The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Christopher does much more than search for the person who murdered his neighbor’s dog with a garden fork. He has a family that needs help and healing. Watching that happen in Marianne Elliott’s captivating staging is a 150-minute joy. And this tour of National Theatre’s Broadway production—playing through September 10, 2017 at the Ahmanson Theatre—is the surest bet in town.

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Stephens’s tale is framed as a play-within-a-play: Christopher’s writings are read by his beloved mentor Siobhan (pronounced Shi-VAWN) (Maria Elena Ramirez), a teacher who helps him navigate the non-mathematical world.

Amelia-White-as-Mrs.-Alexander-and-Adam-Langdon-as-Christopher-Boone-in-the-touring-production-of-The-Curious-Incident-of-the-Dog-in-the-Night-Time.

The real narration comes from set and costume designer Bunny Christie’s giant electronic cube with its supple grid-pattern backdrop: Brittle and binary, its LED and CGI effects, cunningly coordinated with the onstage action, instantly reflect the methodical mazes of Christopher’s mind with its very precise panic attacks and chronic overthinking. It took a technological village to create one of this century’s great theatrical experiences: Paule Constable (lights); Finn Ross (video); Adrian Sutton (music); and Scott Graham & Steven Hoggett (choreography).

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Initially intent on uncovering who murdered Wellington—the pet belonging to his neighbor Mrs. Shears (Kathy McCafferty)—Christopher (the awesome and indefatigable Adam Langdon) slowly learns more than he can cerebrally process: He must open his heart to beat his brain. His journey brings disturbing revelations about his single-parent dad Ed (Gene Gillette), a boiler engineer with lies to cover up secrets. As Christopher interviews his neighbors—including Mr. Thompson (Brian Robert Burns) and Mrs. Alexander (Amelia White), a helpful elderly resident, he gets clues to more than canicide, of which he suspects Mrs. Shears estranged husband Roger (John Hemphill). Unlike math, life yields different results from the same variables.

Adam-Langdon-as-Christopher-Boone-the-touring-production-of-The-Curious-Incident-of-the-Dog-in-the-Night-Time. Adam-Langdon-as-Christopher-Boone-and-the-touring-production-of-The-Curious-Incident-of-the-Dog-in-the-Night-Time.

In search of his mother Judy (Felicity Jones Latta), Christopher embarks on a frantic excursion in the second act from his native Swindon to a very intimidating London. Fraught with urban perils intensified by Christopher’s alienation (the scenes involving train stations are breathtakingly imaginative), the adventure takes Christopher to an encounter that offers a chance for him to find himself. And he will break whatever rules impede the truth. As much as his determination to pass his A-level math exam, Christopher must piece together the parts of his fragmented family into a whole no greater than himself.

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At its best (and there is no worst), this marvelous play is fully felt from Christopher’s eyes out: The Curious Incident delivers another worthy way to wonder at the world. A visceral young actor who channels everything at just the right moment and pace, Langdon kinetically registers Christopher’s anguished, electrifying living-in-the-moment. A jittery mindset that initially feels chaotic and anarchic evolves magnificently; Christopher pushes beyond the false purity of prime numbers to the messy ambivalence of flawed parents and conditional love without even once mentioning Asperger’s. (Benjamin Wheelwright plays Christopher on Saturday and Sunday matinees.) The necessarily supporting performances are totally credible, both as actual adults and manifestations of Christopher’s consciousness; the tight ensemble members don’t just play multiple roles, they move scenery and each other around the stage. My only quibble is that the size of the Ahmanson will prevent many viewers from catching each delicious facial expression.

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The pursuit of the dog-killer was never more than a pretext for the boy’s identity quest. But at drama’s end Christopher’s devotion to the late Wellington is gorgeously redeemed in a transcendent stage picture. Unlike Christopher’s absolutes and abstractions, it’s not at all symbolic. No story could end better.

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Adam Langdon

Felicity-Jones-Latta-as-Judy-and-the-touring-production-of-The-Curious-Incident-of-the-Dog-in-the-Night-Time.photos by Joan Marcus

The Curious Incident
of the Dog in the Night-Time

North American Tour
presented by Center Theatre Group
at the Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave.
ends in L.A. on September 10, 2017
for tickets, call 213.972.4400 or visit CTG
tour continues until September 24, 2017
for dates and cities, visit Curious Incident

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