Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Clever "Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time"

Explore the world with brand new eyes.

Photo by Joan Marcus.
Fellow avid readers may remember A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, the overnight success novel by Mark Haddon that swept the literary community in 2003. It's made waves ever since, and currently is showing at the Orpheum (through December 4).

ACIDN (I know the acronym is awkward but it really is far too long to spell out....sorry guys) follows Christopher Boone, a boy with severe autism who is also a mathematical savant, as he attempts to solve the mystery of who killed his neighbor's dog. This mystery unravels relatively quickly as Christopher comes to find that there are far bigger mysteries surrounding his personal life, which he discovers and begins to reconcile. Through this journey he learns much about himself and his capabilities for survival outside of the world of his sheltered family home.
Photo by Joan Marcus.
There is SO much more to say about the plot of this show, but I really don't want to give away the twist if you haven't seen it yet - suffice it to say, it's a doozy, and it will definitely break your heart. Thankfully it will also put you back together, helping you to grow with eyes wide open, as Christopher learns to do.

This show features some very special performances, particularly that by Adam Langdon as Christopher Boone. Langdon captures Christopher's brilliance and savance with thunderous acuity. He is fully, thoroughly committed to his character at all times, and he manages to connect Christopher with the audience despite the barriers of his autism. It's a truly brilliant performance, and if nothing else sells this show, Langdon will.
Photo by Joan Marcus.
Maria Elena Ramirez is lovely as Christopher's teacher/guide Siobhan, and is a wonderful paean to those everywhere who dedicate themselves to working with special-needs kids. Ramirez is full of heart, tenderness and humor and knows exactly how to guide Christopher through the real world. She's the yin to Langdon's yang, and their communion works beautifully to help reveal the inner workings of Christopher's mind.
Photo by Joan Marcus.
Gene Gillette is great as Christopher's father, showing a wide range of emotions that swing from consuming love to exhaustion to fear to total disgust. He is the pivot on which all action hinges in ACIDN, and he complements Langdon well. Felicity Jones Latta is prickly as Christopher's mother. She does a good job of conveying the difficulty and despair her character must feel, and we can't help but pity her as we are simultaneously disgusted with her actions. The ensemble is tightly choreographed and briskly moves through their scenes, keeping the show moving at a quick pace (even though by the end it clocks out at 2 1/2 hours, it feels fast).
Photo by Joan Marcus.
The most intriguing part of this show for me was the staging, which takes place essentially within a three-sided cube (much like if you were visualizing advanced calculus equations). As a mathematical savant, Christopher draws out his thoughts in diagrams which are replicated on the grid of stage-high light screens. I can only describe them in appearance as a series of small square solar panel-looking items, but they are really a fluid, complex system of lights, projections and storage spaces. The effect is one of Christopher pulling himself, and things, out of deep space and into the immediate present. It's a really stunning backdrop and it's used to maximum effect. The lighting goes hand in hand with this set piece, often coming from within the "cube" rather than on top of it. This gives everything a piercing blue sheen, which combined with strobe lights and potent high beams helps us to understand how jarring experiencing the outside world is for Christopher. It's a tangible way to place us inside Christopher's head and feel what he feels, and it definitely works.
Photo by Joan Marcus.
I will confess that I read this book shortly after it came out and I struggled with it. It felt slow to me and a little bogged down in its own self-importance. This staging strips away most of those extraneous details and leaves us only with the tense core of what A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is really about, questions such as: What defines family? Where should your loyalties lie? Why do we value the things we do? When is lying better than telling the truth? Do we really understand reality, or do we just think we know about it? Christopher's unique, valuable perspective helps us to understand what is truly important and drives home the importance of consequences. He provides valuable life lessons with a magical mindset. It felt good to disappear with Christopher for a while; I'd encourage you to do the same.

A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time runs at the Orpheum Theatre through December 4. For more information or to buy tickets, click on this link.

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