Arts & Entertainment » Theater

You do the maths

Theater review: "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time"


It's always exciting for theater lovers when an award-winning Broadway show launches a national tour: those who didn't (or couldn't) go to New York City at the height of the buzz still have a chance to join the conversation. It's perhaps even more exciting when Rochester is the first stop on a national tour. "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," which won five Tony Awards (including Best New Play) in 2015, opened on Tuesday at the Auditorium Theatre, and it's the first run of more than 30 cities.

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" is based on the 2003 best-selling British novel by Mark Haddon, and was adapted for the stage by Simon Stephens. (Sherlock Holmes devotees may recognize the play's title from its origination in Arthur Conan Doyle's 1892 story "Silver Blaze.") The plot centers on a gifted 15-year-old, Christopher Boone, who has been accused of a crime he didn't commit. Boone, in a Sherlock Holmes-like way, sets out to solve the crime -- but (of course) uncovers much more than he expected along the way.

As audience members enter the Auditorium Theatre for the show, it seems as though the story is already in motion. There, on the stage, is a large dog with a pitchfork projecting from its side. The dog is dead, presumably. There were murmurs throughout the theater from people who were disturbed by the visual, but it was a bold way to begin. Attention was grabbed, and the show moved swiftly from there.

The adaptation features a play-within-a-play plotline, narrated in first-person by both Boone (intensely played by Adam Langdon) and his teacher, Siobhan (the cheerleading, compassionate Maria Elena Ramirez). Boone is a brilliant teenager, but he cannot be touched. He requires routine, he is sensitive to sound and light, and he focuses intently on one activity at a time. The character has sometimes been interpreted as being on the autism spectrum, though it's never expressed in the play (and author Haddon has said he didn't define the character as having a condition). Regardless, Langdon executes the performance with incredible characterization while refraining from a stereotype: Boone is at once compassionate, protective, fearful, observant, violent, and witty. In many ways, he's the embodiment of a 15-year-old Sherlock Holmes, with a calculating mind for maths (as the British call it) and a thirst for justice. Siobhan, his trusted teacher, is the closest thing he has to a Watson figure.

Boone's world doesn't include many people, but the few it does are his dad and primary caretaker (the gripping Gene Gillette), Siobhan, and a host of neighbors and strangers he decides to investigate as the mystery unfolds. The cast is less than 15 actors, all of whom rotate roles throughout the performance. It's not a musical, but because there are so many scene changes throughout, the ensemble has a definite choreography (by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly) to follow. They do this beautifully, weaving in and out of scenes, pulling removable props from the graph paper walls of the set, miming subway stations, and personifying doors, pedestrians, and boot mats.

Many theatergoers have heard about the set and special effects in "Curious Incident" by now; and these elements are certainly the highlight of the show. Scenic and costume designer Bunny Christie, lighting designer Paule Constable, and video designer Finn Ross have created a masterpiece aesthetic of immersive special effects and jaw-dropping set designs. The music by Adrian Sutton and sound design by Ian Dickinson for Autograph is also vital to the success of the show: without the aural effects, the full extent of Boone's character would not be clear.

It's not surprising that Marianne Elliott swept the 2015 Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Awards for her direction of this production. Elliott thrives in the magical, immersive genre -- she also directed the award-winning hit "War Horse" -- but when it comes to sensory theatrical experiences, "Curious Incident" is one-of-a-kind.