Sunday, October 26, 2014

Review of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" - Broadway

Remember the name Alex Sharp.  He is the star of the Broadway drama, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  When award season begins in late spring his name will be on most, if not all, nomination lists.  More importantly, don’t be surprised if, by the night of the Tony Awards, he will have carted off a wheelbarrow full of statuettes from all the various critic’s organizations.  

In the show, based on Mark Haddon’s best-selling book, Sharp plays Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old boy with Asperger’s.  Individuals with Asperger’s are usually high functioning, but still lack social skills and can have issues with spatial relations.  People with Asperger’s can be very smart, some with almost a savant quality, as Christopher demonstrates in his mathematically ability.

At the beginning of The Curious Dog… Christopher discovers his neighbor’s dog has been killed with a garden pitchfork.  The boy liked the animal and decides he will find its killer, even over the objections of his father.  This sets off a chain of self-discovery events within his school and, primarily, at home in regards to his relationship with his father and mother.  And, yes, he does discover who killed Wellington, the dog.

There are two aspects of the show, which elevate The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time into such riveting drama.  First, is the actor Alex Sharp, unbelievably making his Broadway debut, having just graduated from the Julliard School.   He has perfectly embodied a teenage boy with Asperger’s.  His mannerisms—both overt and more subtle—are extraordinary.  Anyone with a son, daughter, or relative with Asperger’s will be truly amazed how accurate his portrayal is on stage.  The other primary actors in the production—Ian Barford as Christopher’s father, Ed; Francesca Faridany as the boy’s special education teacher, Siobhan; and Enid Graham as the young man’s mother, Judy, realistically show the angst, determination, and heartbreak in working and loving a boy with Asperger’s.  The parent’s anguish and distress is only touched on through short monologues and interactions at home and at school.  But enough information is conveyed through Simon Stephens’ relatively faithful, yet exceptional adaptation of the novel to give audience members a good idea of the day-to-day rhythms of what it means to live with and be responsible for a boy with Asperger’s. 

The second strength of the show is the creative team’s overall set design, led by Bunny Christie’s scenic work.  She has taken a bare stage and covered it from floor to ceiling and wall-to-wall, in what is best described as blackened graph paper.  In Christopher’s world of order and spatial harmony the set is a perfect backdrop for his needs and what could be seen as his obsessions.  Paule Constable’s lighting; Finn Ross’ video projections; Ian Dickinson’s sound design; and Adrian Sutton’s music (which were so critical for War Horse) all blend completely to both show the action on stage and, more importantly, portray what is going on in the teenage boy’s mind.  

Even though the drama is not a musical there is much synchronized movement, aptly choreographed by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett.   They move the actors and ensemble into the flow of the production, but also help us understand how Christopher sees the world.

Director Marianne Elliott, who last time on Broadway won the Tony Award for War Horse, demonstrates, once again, she is quite adept at taking difficult material, incorporating the strengths of the creative team, and turning out a narrative which is inventive, creative, and understandable by audiences everywhere.  

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, an important show to be seen and experienced.

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