By Karen Isaacs
Sometimes a play’s production values overtakes its characters and action. It ends up being “all sound and fury.” Such is not the case with the National Theater production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time now at the Ethel Barrymore Theater in New York.
Simon Stephens has adapted the book of the same name by Mark Haddon and director Marianne Elliott and her production team has turned it into a moving and thrilling night of theater.
Christopher Boone is a 15-year-old autistic teen living with his father in a quiet suburban English town. He is discovered at midnight petting the body of his neighbor’s dog who has been stabbed to death with a pitchfork. The neighbor, Mrs. Shears, believes Christopher has killed Wellington and calls the police. After a night in jail, his father bails him out. Christopher is determined to discover who DID kill Wellington, whom he loved. His father strictly forbids it.
But Christopher is determined and with the encouragement of his school social worker, Siobhan, he starts out questioning various neighbors and developing theories about the murder. What Christopher discovers is much more complex than just who killed Wellington.
First of all, this autistic teen who is also mathematically gifted, pushes his own boundaries. He overcomes some of his anxieties to talk to people and even to use public transportation. You can see him gaining confidence.
But Christopher also begins to unravel the truth about other mysteries in his life. I don’t want to spoil it for those who have not read the book, but let us say that he had been given information that was not accurate and his discoveries shake up not only his world but the worlds of all around him.
The book was originally written for children (late pre-teens and teens primarily), but this is a story and play that will appeal to any audience.
Christopher and the adults around him have to learn to accept the newly maturing Christopher. He is moving from dependence to independence and starting to plot his own course. His father, who has been the sole parent for several years, has to learn to let go and allow Christopher to function. His father must also deal with his own emotionally baggage.
The acting is superb. Alex Sharp who plays Christopher is making his Broadway debut; he just graduated from the Julliard School and I see multiple award nominations in his future. He captures the social ineptness and earnestness of Christopher while never making him a caricature. He is surround by an ensemble who play multiple roles. Franceseca Faridany is the sympathetic and supportive social worker who is never cloying. Ian Barford is perfect as his hard-working, loving and protective father. Enid Graham as Judy shows us a mother who is over-whelmed by the difficulties of raising a child with disabilities.
What makes this production so extraordinary is how the entire production team has brought us into Christopher’s world. From the opening moments when we are assaulted by an ear-splitting sound, we are in a world where sound, light and even touch can be overwhelming and painful. The walls at the back and sides of the stage display electronic symbols and dots and dashes like a giant telegraph or computer. I can only imagine that this must be something like how Christopher feels — assaulted everywhere by sights, sounds, touches — that overload his sensory system.
So praises to Bunny Christie who did the scenic and costume design, Paule Constable who did lighting design, Finn Ross who did the videos and the music by Adrian Sutton and the sound design by Ian Dickinson for Autograph. All are outstanding.
Director Marianne Elliott must be credit with molding this piece to the effective and touching play that it is.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is worth seeing. It is at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on West 47th Street. Tickets are available through Telecharge.