1/12/2020 THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME Aurora Theatre
In the dark of night, in Swindon, in the county of Wiltshire, South West England (114 km west of London; 56 km east of Bristol; 56 km west of Reading), an unfortunate dog (name Wellington, breed unspecified -- some sources say “Poodle”) breathes his last, pierced by a garden fork (“pitchfork” to the Americans among you). Local teen, Christopher John Francis Boone, a “mathematical genius with behavioral issues,” embarks on an adventure to discover the killer.
Christopher John Francis Boone, whose specific mental state remains unnamed, but results in digressions, distractions, sensory overload, tantrums, over-attention to details and minutia, and savant-level mathematic (and geographic) acuity finds the answer closer to home than he ever imagined, uncovering a web of deceptions only the lessons of his teacher and mentor, Ms. Siobhan equips him to navigate.
Thus is the set-up to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a play by Simon Stephens, based on a novel by Mark Haddon, with a title drawn from the Sherlock Holmes story called “The Adventure of Silver Blaze” (see footnote below). Mr. Haddon has remarked that he resents the use of
specific arm-chair psychological names for any condition characteristic of Christopher John Francis Boone, even going so far as to claim he did more research on the London Underground and the Swindon train station than he did on any pop psychology, choosing instead to base the character of Christopher John Francis Boone on people he knows. According to Mr. Haddon, Christopher John Francis Boone’s only relevant “condition” is “outsider.”Mr. Haddon’s book is structured as a series of prime-numbered chapters told from the point-of-view of Christopher John Francis Boone, replete with all the digressions, and sensory overload, and detailed minutiae as would be the world as experienced by Christopher John Francis Boone.
So too is this play, a theatrical sensory overload replete with projections, digressions, tantrums, bright colors, journeys through the universe, and unyielding terrors, all of which help us share the world as experienced by Christopher John Francis Boone. The same seven faces occupy all the characters in the life and journey of Christopher John Francis Boone and his pet rat Toby. Furniture and doors and machines are given the same seven human faces. And when the adventure leads to London and its bedlam (a shortening of Bethlehem Royal Hospital, a London hospital for other outsiders with “behavioral problems”), a cacophony of sights, a roiling maelstrom of sounds, which are metaphors, and Christopher John Francis Boone does not like metaphors, even though the word “metaphor” is a metaphor itself, these selfsame seven human faces seemingly multiply exponentially seeming closer to seven hundred seventy-seven than to seven. Seven is a prime number, seven hundred seventy-seven is not, though it is the number of a Boeing jetliner first flown in 1994, and, in numerology is the number of “inner wisdom magnified or focused on creative activity.”
Christopher John Francis Boone is played by Brandon Michael Mayes, a young man of seemingly endless energy and invention, a man of such creativity that one would feel justified in claiming he was not an actor but another young man experiencing the same behavioral problems of Christopher John Francis Boone. He is not. What he is, is a marvel.
As are the seven human faces that occupy his universe. Christopher Hampton plays the father of Christopher John Francis Boone, at times cruel and conniving, at others heart-shatteringly tender and loving. Shelli Delgado is Siobhan, bringing such a full level of empathy, a concept alien to Christopher John Francis Boone; she is his touchstone to navigating this strange and unsympathetic world. Megan Dominy is the mother of Christopher John Francis Boone, even though he has been assured she died two years ago. The remaining four human faces – Lala Cochran, Yvonne Singh, Brian Kurlander, and Jimi Kocina – play more than twenty additional characters (and props) in a whirlwind of design and skill.
This production is a partnership between Horizon and Aurora Theatres and was first performed at Horizon (with 87.5% of the same cast – Siobhan has been recast) last year. I saw it then, but because I saw it before the official Press Opening, I was asked to not write about it, a request I was happy to satisfy, because I am, at root, lazy, and avoiding writing is my favorite writing activity. That being said, the performance I saw then was top-notch (and in a sane world would have made my best of the year recap) and the performance I saw yesterday was every bit as top-notch (and, if this world becomes sane – it’s an election year so my hopes for that fade with ever Tweet – this will make my 2020 best-of-the-year recap). Horizon and Aurora are configured very differently so I have to confess to curiosity about what changes would be wrought in the transition to Lawrenceville.
The differences, if they exist, were invisible, or at least lost to the comparative functioning of my brain and memory. I was moved by the same moments, alarmed by the same moments, amused by the same moments, overjoyed by the same moments.
And, as in Horizon’s staging, at no time did I feel anything but the most core-level connection to Christopher John Francis Boone and his story. Apparently, co-directors Lisa Adler and Justin Anderson work well together, and should do so again. The set by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay, the lights by Mary Parker, the sound and music by Chris Lane, and the projections by Milton Cordero all transferred intact and remain an asset of the production
So, is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time really about that curious condition that remains unnamed, and unexamined? I would say that no, it the story of a young mathematical genius, an outsider trying to pilot his course through an insider world, and in the process manages to:
Find his way to London on his own
Solve the mystery of the murder of Wellington
Reunite with a mother he thought was dead, freeing her from a toxic relationship
Write his own story for Ms. Siobhan and his classmates (“You’re too old to play a policeman”) to perform
Pass his A Level Mathematics exam with highest mark despite being confused and sleepy
Start a journey to once again trust his father
Be reassured that he CAN become a scientist
Make his esoteric proof for a tough mathematics concept theatrical and entertaining
Discover inner wisdom by focusing on creative activity
Name and care for a new dog.
Given all this, it’s as if his “behavior problems” are a mere afterthought.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #atCuriousIncident)
Footnote: Full Sherlock Holmes reference:
Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?
Holmes: To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.
Gregory: The dog did nothing in the night-time.
Holmes: That was the curious incident.
Let me take this final moment to apologize to Christopher John Francis Boone for my fondness of metaphors and yellow prose; if there is no recognized definition of “yellow prose,” let me assure you that what you have just read is it.