Of monsters, math, and motherly love
‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ will make you revisit your notion of love, care, and disorders
The Curious Incident of Dog in the Night-Time
By SpeakEasy Stage Company
Play Adaptation by Simon Stephens
Based on the book “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon
Playing until Nov. 18
Wellington has died. Everyone suspects Christopher of committing the crime.
Now, if you were suspected for a murder, and no one believed you, you would probably run. Christopher runs, too. But he runs towards the problem, not away from it. The 15-year-old math-whiz with Asperger’s wants to find the person responsible for the death of Wellington, the dog found speared with a pitchfork on a gloomy night.
This is the premise for Speakeasy Stage Company’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” adapted from Mark Haddon’s 2003 bestseller of the same title. The play is running at the Calderwood Pavilion in the Boston Center for the Arts until Nov 18.
When you go to a play about an autistic child, you might expect that it would be socially awkward and that the dialog would not be very engaging. You might picture a kid sitting on the floor rocking back and forth or doing math intently. What you would probably not imagine is a highly engaging production featuring interpretive dances and an interactive stage. The audience sits on three sides so that the stage fills the center of the room. It is the epicenter of everyone’s attention, and the more casual arrangement makes it feel as if you are watching reality unfold rather than sitting at a theater. The stage and walls are black, with equations written all over them. The surface is plexiglass, with intricate lighting equipment hidden beneath. The constantly-shifting stage landscape and clever use of props really push the boundaries of what you think might be possible on stage. SpeakEasy deserves major praise for their intricate choreography and dazzling stagecraft that bring Christopher’s internal world to life.
The play also deserves praise for staying true to the source material. When Mark Haddon wrote the book, he never explicitly said that Christopher had Asperger’s. He did this on purpose because he didn’t want the book to be about the fact that Christopher has Asperger’s, and for the first 50 pages, I was aware only that Christopher was somewhat unusual. The words “Asperger’s” and “autism” have many connotations that Haddon wanted to avoid and did so fairly effectively by not using the words, since he was writing in a medium where words were so incredibly important. Switch to a medium where the visual is everything, and simply not saying “Asperger’s” is not enough. It is impossible for the audience not to notice Christopher’s behavioral oddities. However, the production did a good job of working around this by pulling the audience directly into Christopher’s mind. Although watching Eliot Purcell play Christopher gives the impression of an underlying behavioral issue, it was only occasionally the focus of the play. Rather, Purcell made Christopher’s strong feelings come alive on stage through his speech, movement, and sometimes even non-verbal cries. The rest of the cast supported him well, especially Laura Latreille as Christopher’s mom, Judy, who depicted her character’s complex situation and the complicated emotions arising from them quite artfully.
One curious fact about this play was that the ensemble is almost always present onstage in one form or another. Even if they have no roles to play at that point, they exist onstage as a black dress, shifting the props and changing the stage landscape as if they were part of the stage itself. From time to time, they “act” as the prop themselves, being the doormat or the coat hanger to be moved around at the other actor’s will. This technique leads to a fluidity onstage that makes you forget the passage of time and allows you to sit through their approximately 2 ½-hour play without checking the time once.
“Curious Incident” isn’t just a play; it’s social commentary as well. In the end, “Curious Incident” is a story about the whole world subtly implying their conviction that Christopher is broken. Instead, the story creates a statement about how the brokenness is all around him. When his society, education system, and even the classic idea of parental love fail him, holding Christopher to a higher standard is almost hypocritical. If you enjoy theater, moral dilemmas, math, and have only a minor beef against faux-British accents, “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is a play for you.