Review by Tulis McCall
6 October 2014
Autism would not be on my top ten list of subjects to attract me to the theatre. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is yet another reminder of why theatre is a temple. This production is a reminder that theatre is not about the subject matter. It is about experiencing the electricity of life hammering through you like a locomotive.
Christopher (a very fine Alex Sharp in his Broadway debut) is autistic, age 15, and has discovered his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, dead with a pitchfork lodged in his left side. We learn this through his teacher Siobhan (Francesca Faridany who gives a delicate and incisive performance) who is reading from Christopher’s book, and commenting on it as she goes – This is good Christopher. It’s quite exciting. I like the details. They make it more realistic. Immediately we know this tale is looking back at us. It knows we are watching.
In short order, Christopher is “arrested” – more for clobbering a police officer who tries to touch him than for the dog. Christopher did not kill the dog. He does not lie. While there are many things of which he is uncertain, he knows he does not lie. He also knows that he knows a lot of things that other folks don’t. Math, mainly. He also knows that he sees where others only bounce a glance off something.
If he had his druthers, he would go up into space with his pet rat, Toby, and have the universe all to himself.
Back on planet earth, however, it is a different story. The facts are that Christopher gets on well enough with his father, Ed (Ian Barford), but he still misses his mother Judy (Enid Graham) who has been dead for several years. Home life is on the empty side. Therefore, having been accused of a crime he did not commit, Christopher decides to track down Wellington’s killer. He forces himself to speak to strangers in the neighborhood, and we can feel the herculean effort he dedicates to this project. He is a young man on a mission. Terror will not stop him. Neither will his father’s command to leave Wellington’s death alone.
In a brilliant plot twist, Christopher’s trail turns into a spiral that leads to a confrontation with his father and a decision to go to London on his own.
The first act is a play in itself that concludes with a bang of an Ahah! The second act is less of a writing success but is buoyed up by the first, plot wise. Technically, however, it is dazzling and speeds past with the velocity of a jet. I have never seen projections, lights and sets put trough their paces in so intricate and seemingly effortless fashion. The walls adorned with graph paper design slide in and out, reveal hidden pantry doors, and change from vertical to horizontal with the aid of this cast. The lights are like live sculpture. The sound sucks you in to Christopher’s center as he makes his way through the maze of London to his destination.
Christopher may wish his life happened in a vacuum but it doesn’t. Which is precisely why it can be told. This boy hurtles from pillar to post for nearly two hours, and because of Marianne Elliott’s extraordinary direction we are able not only to hang on, but to find a seat and admire the view.
As a friend who was there said, “This isn’t a musical, but it still is choreographed.” Indeed. This ensemble cast is one cohesive unit that is ever present. They obstruct, they support, they guide, they challenge, they comment. They haul themselves up into the stratosphere of story and take us with them. Just as it is the entire world that appears to assault Christopher, it is the entire world of this cast and technical elements that makes this story all of a piece. It is the ensemble that transforms the story into magic. Poof.
Mr. Stephens does not tie this story up in a lovely bow at the end. As the story concludes, Christopher and Siobhan acknowledge his bravery, his book, and the play that came out of it, which is drawing to a close as they stand there. When Christopher finally asks what this all means for his future, the question is clearly meant for us. We have become part of the tale.
We leave the theatre the better for it.
Bravo! Drinks all around.
"Be prepared to have all your emotional and sensory buttons pushed, including a few you may have not known existed."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Director Marianne Elliott...proves a master at orchestrating visceral and wildly energetic scenes as well as poignant hushed moments."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"What makes the production — which features a new American cast — truly memorable is how well it balances formal brilliance and emotion. This is the whole package, a rare case of family entertainment that speaks to the heart and brain."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time...is an often transfixing marvel of theatrical invention."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"It is one extremely cool event for the rising generation to experience as well as their elders."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey
"Elliott and her design team have put together a remarkable production. Its virtuoso stagecraft can occasionally be distancing, even exhausting, and the play is not without its moments of manipulative sentimentality. But more than anything, The Curious Incident is a tremendously exciting demonstration of the power of theater. It makes us want to reconsider the world around us, without missing a single one of its infinite details."
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter
"The National Theatre production of 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' is spectacular, like Cirque du Soleil with brains."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...