The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Ethel Barrymore Theatre (see Broadway). By Simon Stephens. Based on the book by Mark Haddon. Directed by Marianne Elliott. With Alex Sharp, Francesca Faridany. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: In brief
Based on the 2003 best-seller about an autistic teen’s search for the killer of his neighbor’s pooch, this stage thriller comes to Broadway on a wave of acclaim from England. The adaptation is by the prolific Simon Stephens, and the spectacular staging is by Marianne Elliott (War Horse).
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: Theater review by David Cote
Despite the Sherlock-derived title and gruesome crime scene it opens with, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time solves the case relatively quickly. By the end of the first act we know whodunit (that is, impaled a pooch with a pitchfork) and we’ve gotten another revelation, this one having to do with the hero’s mother. But there’s a broader mystery raised by this dazzling and pulse-pounding drama: “How on earth did they do that?”
By “that,” we mean how the British import translates Mark Haddon’s tricky 2003 novel—narrated by a 15-year-old boy who’s clearly on the autism spectrum—to the stage. Christopher John Francis Boone (Sharp) is a math savant with a fondness for the color red, who has difficulty interacting with people—he screams if you touch him. The strain of raising such a gifted but challenged child shows on his well-meaning but anger-prone father (Ian Barford), who one day informs the impassive boy that his mother had died. Later, Christopher finds the neighbor’s dog murdered, and decides to catch the killer. His journey leads him to London and into a sense-barraging sequence on the Underground.
The success of the book has much to do with the narrator’s uncanny mix of factual rigor and literalism (he cannot abide metaphors and idiomatic expressions), and his bravery in the face of traumatic daily life. That combination of intense emotionalism and visual dazzle is captured brilliantly in Marianne Elliott’s production, awash in video projections and moving parts (the ingenious grid-lined set is by Bunny Christie). Simon Stephens’s lean, fast-moving adaptation makes smart use of the ensemble to create a polyphony of voices for narrative heavy lifting, while his domestic scenes don’t stint on grimness. A sympathetic special-needs teacher (Faridany) floats through the action as a bridge between Christopher’s loving but flawed parents and the ideal world the boy aspires to: one of computers, numbers, space travel and his pet rat Toby.
Christopher could be played either cute or creepy, and Sharp—moon-faced and adorable—leans toward the puppyish side. It’s a choice echoed by a small, furry guest appearance at the end of this wrenching but exhilarating night, a bundle of sweetness well earned.
THE BOTTOM LINE Eye-popping stage effects drop us into the data-saturated world of a remarkable teen sleuth.
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote