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

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

by Lawrence Bommer on December 8, 2016

in Theater-Chicago,Tours

DETECTING LOVE

At first Christopher John Francis Boone seems a defective detective: A 15-year-old math whiz, this only child has Asperger’s Syndrome. The anomaly is enough to push adolescence way beyond awkward. Christopher’s autism manifests in manic multi-Adam-Langdon-as-Christopher-Boone-and-Maria-Elena-Ramirez-as-Siobhan-in-the-touring-production-of-The-Curious-Incident-of-the-Dog-in-the-Night-Time.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 identify who put a garden fork in his neighbor’s large pet. He has a family to help, even heal. Watching that happen in Marianne Elliott’s captivating staging is a 150-minute joy.

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

Now playing the Oriental Theatre in a Broadway in Chicago presentation, Stephens’s tale is framed as a play-within-a-play: Christopher’s writings are read by his beloved mentor Siobhan (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 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. (Only after the curtain call, when Christopher solves a gorgeously symmetrical math problem, does it burst into color and confetti.)

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Initially intent on uncovering who murdered Wellington, the large dog belonging to his neighbor Mrs. Shears (Charlotte Maier), Christopher (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 neighbor’s estranged husband Roger (John Hemphill) and a helpful elderly resident (Amelia White), he gets clues to more than a dog-killer in the night-time. 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 (Felicity Jones Latta), who may not have died of a heart attack, 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 adventure takes the lad to a second family. The encounter offers a chance for Christopher to find himself by process of elimination (if differences define us). 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.

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

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. The necessarily supporting performances are totally credible, both as actual adults and manifestations of Christopher’s consciousness.

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The pursuit of the dog-killer, solved if not satisfying, 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 Broadway in Chicago
at the Oriental Theatre until December 24, 2016
for tickets, call 213.972.4400
or visit Broadway in Chicago
tour continues until September 17, 2017
for dates and cities, visit Curious Incident

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