Sunday, March 1, 2020

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

Creativity is center stage in the worthy production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, playing at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre in Storrs through March 8th.  Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, the show cleverly and imaginatively delves into the world of a 15-year old boy on the autism spectrum.

The story focuses on Christopher, a young lad with Aspergers, who lives with his father in Swindon, a small town in England.  As the play begins, Christopher discovers someone has killed his neighbor’s dog and, against his father’s orders, begins to investigate.  This child-like objective quickly tests his personal boundaries and fears as he begins a journey of self-discovery that reveals household secrets and lays bare family dynamics.

Playwright Simon Stephens has brilliantly adapted author Mark Haddon’s book to reflect the emotional awareness and day-to-day life of a teen on the autism spectrum.  Christopher is very smart, but the world outside his special needs school and home are a foreboding place full of obstacles and challenges.  What makes the play even more engrossing is how realistically parents of a boy with autism are portrayed, from the demands they face to the commitment they have for their child.

Audience members acquainted with individuals like Christopher will give knowing nods throughout the show.  For some individuals, the play can be hard to watch.  As a parent with a severely developmentally disabled son, I have shed a number of tears watching the drama.

For a production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time to be successful, the three main characters need to deliver precision, heartfelt portrayals.  Tyler Nowakowski, a 3rd year BFA student at the University of Connecticut is very good in the demanding role of Christopher.  He deftly embodies a teenage boy with Asperger’s.  His mannerisms—both overt and more subtle—are on target.  The actor shows the many facets a teenager on the spectrum faces each day of his life.

Joe Cassidy, who plays Christopher’s father Ed, gives a rewarding performance full of mixed emotions.  There is anguish, distress, but also the deep love he feels for his son.  You sense his inner turmoil and come to understand the sacrifices he has made.  Margot White’s portrayal of Judy, the boy’s mother, is heart rendering.  The actress gives a realistic performance of a mother in distress who wants balance in her life, but cannot cope with the ups and downs she is presented.  Thalia Eddy, a sophomore BFA student at the University, is caring, soft-spoken, but firm as Christopher’s teacher Siobhan.  She is a steady force in the lad’s life.  Her understanding and compassion are thoroughly convincing.  Maybe she should change her major to special education?

Director Kristin Wold utilizes the ensemble throughout the production, sometimes overusing them in scenes, which can prove distracting from the main focus of the play.  She is most effective with the more intimate scenes between Christopher and his father and mother.  Here, the story can speak for itself.

Set Designer Dennis Akpinar relies on a minimal design, relying on building blocks that are assembled for a variety of settings and functions.  Projections Designer Taylor Edelle Stuart builds in numerous backdrops whose images can broaden our perspective of Christopher’s inner world.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, a captivating and emotional-charged show, playing at the CT Repertory Theatre through March 8th.  Information and tickets are at:

NOTE - In the show, Christopher exhibits traits which are not fully explained. Why does he not want to be touched? What is the significance of his model train-building obsession? Why does he need to always tell the truth and be so literal?  I asked my wife, Jane Thierfeld Brown, a national authority on students with Aspergers, who has co-authored three books on the subject and presents on the topic at colleges and universities across the country, to help me write a column that would provide playgoers background information on general Asperger’s characteristics (Click here). Our goal is to help enrich the theatrical experience of those attending a performance of this production by exploring some of the behaviors in the show at a more rudimentary level.

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