The Rep’s production of Simon Stephens’ adaption of Mark Haddon’s novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, is a brilliant gem of many facets
Set in today’s England, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is not quite comedy and definitely not tragedy. Marissa Wolf’s direction brings poignant compassion to playwright Stephens’ slightly cockeyed – in the best sense – plot and storyline, while a terrific cast makes it look effortless.
Arnulfo Maldonado’s round, completely white set, a direct descendant of a Greek amphitheater, connects us to Christopher (Jaime Sanders), to protagonist. A 15-year-old with autism spectrum disorder, Christopher finds his neighbor’s dog “murdered” in the garden and is then blamed for it.
This sets him on a course much like Odysseus, trying to return home after the Trojan War, and Orpheus, wandering the underground to find his love, Eurydice. Christopher’s journey ultimately reveals not only the real killer but also brings Christopher to a new understanding about himself, his family, and the world at large. Brendan Aanes soundscape adds the right atmosphere, by turns cosmic and urban.
Sanders’ Christopher is by turns unnerving, brilliant, naive and savvy. Because of his condition, he hates to be touched and takes metaphors literally. He doesn’t like to speak. At the opening, in fact, Siobhan (Bree Elrod), his schoolteacher, who also acts as Christopher’s inner voice and guiding light, speaks for him. Or, more properly, translates Christopher’s monosyllabic responses to us in the audience.
Elrod’s Siobhan is always supportive and believes in Christopher. She appears when he needs her the most: When he travels from his home in Swindon, England, to London to find his mom, Siobhan’s voice helps him navigate the train, subway and city, and even his A-level maths exam.
Ed (Jason Chanos) is a working stiff who does his best with a challenging child. Judy (Stephanie Rae Roberts), Christopher’s mom, seems cold until we actually see her. Roberts’ Judy is a mom, not a myth, who loves her son but was not emotionally capable of raising Christopher.
Other actors play multiple parts such as travelers, police and subway riders. Nicole Marie Green is by turns hard-hearted as Mrs. Shears, owner of the murdered dog, and delightful as Mrs. Gascoyne, the school principal. Peggy Friesen brings her professional sparkle to Mrs. Alexander, a neighbor. The estimable Walter Coppage seamlessly switches from police officer to teacher to voice.
A major theme is how adults treat children in general, and children with difficult conditions specifically. In providing care and guidance, supportive adults often needlessly – or heedlessly – meddle in children’s lives. Christopher may be autistic but he knows a thing or two and knows when he wants to listen to or ignore his dad or mom. A telling scene is when his mom takes it upon herself to reschedule Christopher’s exam.
For a play like this, telling too much about the action gives away too much that you need to discover for yourself in the course of the show. That’s part of the fun. Listen to the language. Watch the characters. And be sure not to miss the lesson on the Pythagorean theorem!
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Playwright: Simon Stephens
Based on the novel by: Mark Haddon
Director: Marissa Wolf
At: Kansas City Repertory Theatre/Spencer Theatre
Ends: February 18
– theater review by Frank C. Siraguso