Christopher Boone (Adam Langdon) navigates an overstimulating world. Photo by Joan Marcus.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time opened Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. It’s a rare spoken play in a Broadway touring season that’s normally entirely filled with musicals. It’s also an amazing, engrossing rollercoaster of an experience and a fantastic shakeup of the season.
You don’t need to know anything about this play before you arrive and I recommend not reading the synopsis beforehand, since one of the core narrative threads is the solving of a mystery. This 2012 play by Simon Stephens is an adaptation of an award-winning 2003 mystery novel by Mark Haddon; four years after its West End debut in London, the play is still running strong there. (It even survived a collapsing roof, although it’s now playing at a safer venue.) On Broadway, the show was equally lauded, taking home the 2015 Tony Award for Best Play.
A driving force in the play is the way that our lead protagonist Christopher Boone (Adam Langdon) experiences the world. He sees and recalls details with extraordinary accuracy, but struggles with sensory overload and interpreting what other people say to him (although not explicitly stated, it’s strongly implied that Boone is on the autism spectrum, with what used to be diagnosed as Asperger’s syndrome). Digital projections, lights, and old-fashioned cast members are used to guide us through Boone’s thought processes to show how he navigates the world. This is greatly entertaining, and part of the fun is to try and guess the conclusions that Boone will arrive at and why.
The script is engrossing, but much of what carries the show is a tour de force performance by Adam Langdon as Christopher, whose full-body realization of the character is strikingly realistic to anyone who’s spent time with people of that age with ASD. The rest of the cast is equally strong, if not always foregrounded, especially Gene Gillette as Ed and Felicity Jones Latta as Judy, who ably capture the complex tugs of characters. (Kathy McCafferty also has several notable, scene-stealing walk-ons as Mrs. Gascoyne.)
Although the three walls of the backdrop initially come across as minimalist, the combined scenic (Bunny Christie), lighting (Paule Constable), and video (Finn Ross) designs function as a character in their own right. Beyond the storytelling device of illuminating Christopher’s mind, these elements are a lot of fun to watch. Ian Dickinson’s sound design is also an important component of the experience – if you saw Tribes at the Guthrie in 2013, this pushes the hear-through-their-ears envelope further.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a fun, intelligent, and unique theatrical experience. You’ll want to bring some friends, because it’s easy to experience yet hard to describe – and you’ll have a lot of fun talking about it later. There’s even a compelling reason to stay after curtain call instead of running to the exits.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time plays through Dec. 4 at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis.
Basil was named one of Musical America's 30 Professionals of the Year in 2017.
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