There have been countless TV and movie attempts to understand someone with Asberger’s or Autism. But, it is a rare feat to draw the audience into the person’s perspective. However, the staging of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” which opened at the Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre this week, brings the worldview of the special-needs protagonist, Christopher Boone, to life.
“Curious Incident” never specifies what condition affects 15-year-old Christopher, played here by Juilliard graduate Adam Langdon. But, the young man speaks in a clipped, nasal, robot voice. He cannot be touched, is bewildered by common clichés and is reduced to screaming fits by sensory overload. However, Christopher is exceptionally good at math and science, skills he puts to use trying to navigate the complexities of the world he encounters during the plot.
Simon Stephens wrote the Tony- and Olivier Award-winning “Curious Incident” play, which is adapted from Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel. Tony winner Marianne Elliott (“War Horse”) directed the show. Besides the cast, it is the staging that makes the action believable. “Curious Incident” is propelled along by a talented Tony Award-winning crew: Science and Costume designer Bunny Christie, lighting designer Paule Constable, and video designer Finn Ross.
The set consists of three grid-covered (think graph paper) walls equipped with light and video capabilities as well as compartments that open into cubbyholes. Modular boxes sit on stage and serve as various props. They are used to evoke Christopher’s need for order in an inherently disordered world. They create a sense of being assaulted by the sights and sounds of city life. The set design also conveys the trauma of navigating the London subway as a descent into hell from Christopher’s perspective.
Moving Beyond the Dog
The story opens with Christopher discovering the body of his neighbor’s dog with a garden fork stuck in its back. He bravely sets out to solve the murder. His discoveries are sometimes funny, but also heart breaking, as Christopher uncovers uncomfortable truths about his world and parents. Long before intermission, the story has moved far beyond the dog and into Christopher’s sleuthing about his family.
Christopher’s journey introduces us to his absent mother, emotionally overwrought father, sympathetic teacher, neighbors, and others he encounters. The play is largely Langdon’s to carry. But, his highly believable portrayal is supported in the U.S. tour production of “Curious Incident” by a talented cast. Notable standouts include Gene Gillette as the father Ed, Maria Elena Ramirez as the teacher Siobhan, and Felicity Jones Latta as the mother Judy. Additionally, Benjamin Wheelwright portrays Christopher at matinees.
“Curious Incident” as a book was enjoyable. While well-presented and well-acted, the play seems to be in search of an ending in the second act. (The journey to his mother’s home is well done but goes on too long – Maybe that’s Christopher’s take too.) Then they resort to a cheap (but charming) trick by introducing a live puppy to help Christopher move on with his new reality.
Ultimately, the design elements and staging of “Curious Incident” make the show worthwhile and bring Christopher’s world and way of seeing things to life. The show will be at the Ahmanson in Los Angeles through Sept. 10, and then moves to Orange County’s Segerstrom Center and to Las Vegas.
By Dyanne Weiss
Performance August 3,2017
Center Theatre Group: ‘Curious Incident’ Begins Performances at the Ahmanson
Photo ©2016 by Joan Marcus of Gene Gillette as Ed and Adam Langdon as Christopher Boone in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” courtesy Center Theatre Group.