A new play by Scott Stephens
Based on the novel by Mark Haddon
Directed by Marianne Elliott
Ethel Barrymore Theatre
Official Website

Reviewed by David Spencer

To those saving their pennies, I regret to inform you that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is every bit as good as it’s cracked up to be. If you were lucky enough to catch the 2012 screening in the National Theatre Live series, featuring the original London cast on the original “profile” stage configuration (audience on either side of a wide, end-to-end playing space), you had the total experience as much as you can, short of in-person attendance, and I won’t minimize the ride—I love NTLive; it’s not merely “the next best thing to being there,” it’s being there differently—but if the broadcast got past you then, yes, yes indeed, you’re going to be coughing up some Broadway bucks. Because TCIOTDITNT is one of those singular stage works so totally unlike anything else that it leaves a lifelong impression even as it’s in progress. You may need to attend anyway, just to see how the production has been ingeniously reconfigured to work in a proscenium space; far from looking like an adjustment or an accommodation, it looks like it was born there.

            Simon Stephens’ play, based on the novel by Mark Haddon, has as its main character 15 year old Christopher Boone (Alex Sharp; Taylor Trensch at matinees). He sees himself as a “mathematician with some behavioral difficulties,” and though his condition is never further specified, one can extrapolate extreme Asperger’s, high-functioning autism and the like. Christopher needs things in order, doesn’t like being touched (except by pets), and is highly agitated when schedules are thrown off or important questions go unanswered. It is one such question that kicks off his story: Who killed the neighbor’s dog, Wellington, with a pitchfork? His obsession with deducting the answer like his beloved Sherlock Holmes, shakes loose far more information than he bargained for, leading to further incongruities, these about his own life, and has him, as a result, having to step outside of the box of routine and safe-at-home in order to learn the complete truth and put things aright. Wanting to avoid spoilers to those who don’t know the story, I’ll add only that other key roles are played by Francesca Faridany, Ian Barford and Enid Graham.

            The stage set (Bunny Christie) is a black box space, with hidden steps and levels and compartments, permeated by a CGI grid, which can be stabilized or disrupted—a constant visual representation of the world as Christopher knows it and learns to navigate it, a brilliant use of metaphor that takes us into the mind of one forced to view the world from an abstracted perspective.

            A moving and suspenseful script, it is directed with slammin’ assurance by Marianne Elliott, and acted by an American cast every bit the equal of their UK predecessors.

            Descriptions don’t really do productions like this justice, because when the conflation of literal narrative and poetic presentation is delivered at this level, you’re getting the best of what can only be achieved in a theatrical environment—talk about high functioning within restrictions. So go and see for yourself.

            And pay attention.

            You will be given implicit instructions,

            No matter how “over” it seems, don’t leave after the curtain call.

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