A play is often like looking through a window yielding the experiences of the characters within the story, but The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time takes its audience deeper than that. The show, a winner of five Tony Awards including Best Play in 2015, proves a mesmerizing and thoughtful look into the mind of 15-year-old Christopher Boone, an autistic teenager who goes about trying to solve the mysterious death of his neighbor’s dead dog.
Immediately upon entering the theater, you know this is a different experience. The set primarily consists of three walls featuring grid-like squares and white boxes around the base. A few knickknacks are strewn across the stage, but in the middle is the remains of a dead dog, including a pitchfork poling out of its side. This bare bones design is contrasted by the loud music and strobe lighting signaling the beginning of the play, a purposeful sensory overload during the introduction of Christopher (Adam Langdon) and his discovery of the pet’s corpse.
The booming features, which occur numerous times throughout the performance illicit the multiple instances of Christopher feeling overwhelmed; these are brilliantly choreographed by director Marianne Elliott, who earned one of those Tony Awards for best director. It’s easy to see why she garnered the accolade, as Elliott constructs this story in a way which allows the audience to truly sympathize with the protagonists struggles.
This is helped by the set design. We quickly learn that the grids on the wall can be lighten up with individual dots, and that projectors help show examples of Christopher working out problems. The below the line work on the performance is easily some of the most impressive I’ve seen in a stage play.
But of course, as much as the lights and direction help this play succeed, the story must pull its weight as well, and it does in spades. We quickly learn Christopher experiences a mild case of autism, which allows him to understand basics and excel in school, but this doesn’t mean things are easy for him or his father (Gene Gillette), who is raising him alone.
The physical dog quickly turns into a McGuffin as the true crux of the story is found in the internal struggles of this family: how they must trust each other and learn to effectively communicate even though there is a tremendous barrier between them that is nearly impossible to overcome. However, as Christopher’s teacher Siobhan (Maria Elena Ramirez) helps him learn, the ability to focus on projects and little details is how they can effectively go about solving problems.
It was a great but rewarding risk to have the protagonist of this story be Christopher rather than his parents or his teacher. It reminds us that we can’t assume someone isn’t capable of performing tasks simply because we don’t understand them, just that it may be difficult and we need to be patient and caring.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a beautiful creation of body and soul. A stellar production that will leave you in awe of what can be accomplished on the stage, and hopeful from the story that played out on it.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is currently playing at the Kennedy Center and will continue its run through Oct. 23.
Photo/artwork credits: Adam Langdon (center) stars in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Photo credit: Joan Marcus