Wednesday, December 28, 2016

CT Theater Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time -- The Bushnell

Adam Langdon. Photo: Joan Marcus

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
By Simon Stephens based on the novel by Mark Haddon
Directed by Marianne Elliott
The Bushnell
Through Jan. 1

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
The 2015 Tony Award winner for Best Play is the National Theatre's visually stunning adaptation of Mark Haddon's best-selling novel about Christopher Boone (Adam Langdon, with Benjamin Wheelwright, who played the role on Broadway, performing at certain shows), an autistic teenager trying to solve the mystery of a the killing of a neighborhood dog. The dog's owner, Mrs. Shears (Charlotte Maier), isn't helpful when Christopher begins his detective work to find out how a pitchfork came to end Wellington's life.

There's also a question of where Mr. Shears (a multi-talented John Hemphill) has gone and he becomes Christopher's prime suspect. A lonely neighbor, Mrs. Alexander (Amelia White), has some information, as well as some cookies to share, but what she has to say about his parents might not be what Christopher wants to hear. His father, Ed (Gene Gillette, but played the night I saw it by a capable Tim Wright), forbids him to continue with his investigation. Christopher decides to try to find his way to London, where he discovers that his mother, Judy (Felicity Jones Latta), has relocated.

As Christopher unravels the mysteries around the dog's murder and his mother's disappearance, he also discovers answers about himself and truths about family tree relationships whose branches are stronger than the pain that threatens to uproot them.

The story is told from Christopher's perspective. He doesn't relate to most of what is going on around him and his Autistic nature causes him to retreat from a world which is loud and chaotic and painful to the touch. He records his experiences in a book with the help of his special education aide, Siobhan (Maria Elena Ramirez), who reads parts of it aloud, allowing playwright Simon Stephens to continue the first-person narrative of Mark Haddon's novel.

All of Christopher's sensations, thoughts, dreams and emotions are depicted on Scenic Designer Bunny Christie's ingenious grey, three-sided grid backdrop which provides a sort of "connect the dots" for what is happening in his mind (Christie also designs the costumes). A toy train set depicts the boy's journey on the grid while he makes the actual journey to Paddington train station despite sensory overload. Projections (Finn Ross) and lighting effects (Paule Constable) combine with crashes of music (Adrian Sutton) and sound (Ian Dickinson) to create the world.

Actors not involved in the action take seats around the stage. Minimal props, primarily some white crates, are used to create settings. Panels in the grid open to reveal other props. Director Marianne Elliott, who brought us the stage wonder of War Horse, brings together elements of sensory delight and storytelling (though they seem less cohesive in this tour than they did on Broadway).

What Are the Highlights?
It's a unique theatrical performance. Christie manages to communicate Christopher’s thought process through the projections.

What Are the Lowlights?
The special effects of Christopher being able to fly or walk on walls are not as subtle as the Broadway version -- we are aware of the ensemble actors helping make this happen -- and one of the most awe-inspiring effects, where Christopher appears to walk in space -- doesn't make it into the touring version. Movement is by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly.

The tale is a bit long-winded at two and a half hours with an intermission. The sound for special effects is VERY loud while at other times, it is very hard to catch all of an actor's dialogue. Langdon adopts a very precise, yelling tone for Christopher, which puts him too much in our world. He doesn't seem to have any difficulty understanding he is relating to people outside of his world and this detracts from the character and from the overall effect of the show. we should slowly realize we are part of Christopher's world, not that he is part of ours.   Ramirez as the narrator is a bit too charismatic. In this version. we never see this character's growth or the extent of her relationship with Christopher. Lost is what a real credit it is to her when Christopher passes his A level exams, sees his novel turned into a play or reaches out to her as though she were part of his family.

More Information:
Curious? Check out this stunning visual presentation at the tour stop through Jan. 1 at The Bushnell. 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm. Tickets are $27.50-$94.50:;     860-987-5900.

Stick around after the curtain call, because it's not over until it's over.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time transferred to London's West End following a sold-out run at the National's Cottesloe Theatre in 2012. The production received seven 2013 Olivier Awards, including Best New Play. It received five Tony Awards including Best Play, six Drama Desk Awards including Outstanding Play and five Outer Critics Circle Awards including Outstanding New Broadway Play. We critics really liked it.

The ensemble also includes Brian Robert Burns, Francesca Choy-Kee, Josephine Hall, Robyn Kerr, Kathy McCafferty. Tim McKiernan. J. Paul Nicholas, Geoffrey Wade. 

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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