Nancy Sasso Janis
- Connecticut Critic
- Connecticut Critics Circle
“The word 'metaphor' means carrying something from one place to another . . . and it is when you describe something by using a word for something that it isn't. This means that the word 'metaphor' is a metaphor." - Christopher in 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time'
Hartford, CT - The National Theatre production of ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ stopped in Hartford during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day to close out 2016 and ring in 2017 at the beautiful Bushnell Theater. It is rare for the theater to have their doors open for a Broadway tour during this time, but they did not want their audiences to miss this dazzling production. The play is directed by Marianne Elliott.
This Tony Award-winning Best Play is adapted by Simon Stephens from Mark Haddon’s 2003 best selling novel with the same cumbersome title. We watch Christopher as he interacts with the (often loud) world around him in his own unique way. While a diagnosis of autism spectrum is not specifically mentioned in the play or the novel, the brilliant fifteen-year-old teen has significant sensitivity issue that are imaginatively presented so that the audience is effectively brought into his often-confusing world. He is clearly exceptionally intelligent but has great difficulty interpreting everyday life, and is enrolled in a special school that is in the process of teaching him the life skills he obviously needs. When he falls under suspicion for killing his neighbor’s large dog, he bravely tries to identify the real culprit; this leads to a shocking discovery and an unlikely journey that changes his life forever.
Some have written that Christopher is not significantly affected by autism but I would disagree. He presents with and has a history of severe sensitivity issues as well as difficulty with being with and understanding other people. While the actions of his parents Ed and Judy are awful, they have been dealing with a child with special needs for fifteen years and it clearly has caused a strain on their marital relationship. These two parents clearly love with son but they are not able to give him a hug without setting off a violent episode.
This adaptation of the novel is presented as a play within a play based upon a book that Christopher has written about his real life coming of age story. Siobhan, his highly-effective teacher/mentor at school, serves as the onstage narrator and once breaks the fourth wall to address the audience. The ensemble members sometimes sit at the edges of the black box awaiting the entrance of their next character; that black box with some incredible lighting effects was almost an uncredited character.
At the press night performance, the lead role of Christopher Boone was masterfully played by Adam Langdon. Mr. Langdon graduated from The Juilliard Drama Division just last year and clearly has the stamina needed to pull off this role where he is in constant motion and seldom offstage. At three upcoming performances, the role of Christopher will be played by Benjamin Wheelwright, who appeared on Broadway in this play. Maria Elena Ramirez, who did ‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’ on Broadway, was just as busy onstage as the caring teacher who never loses her patience with Christopher.
Felicity Jones Latta, who appeared in ‘Cymbeline’ at Hartford Stage and has lots of Yale Rep credits, did very well with the role of Christopher’s mother Judy and Tim Wright, the dance and fight captain who was also in the Broadway cast, ably covered the role of the teen’s father Ed normally played by Gene Gillette. It was so cool to see Charlotte Maier (who was recently in ‘Queens for a Year’ at Hartford Stage) as the neighbor who owns the deceased canine, the administrator at Christopher’s school and others. The other talented ensemble members included Amelie White, John Hemphill, Brian Robert Burns, Francesca Choy-Kee, Geoffrey Wade, Josephine Hall, Robyn Kerr, Tim McKiernan, J. Paul Nicholas and Tim Wright.
Bunny Christie designed both the costumes and the scenery. Paule Constable did the lighting design that worked well with the unusual set and Finn Ross designed the fabulous videos that suggested locations and much more. The ensemble members served as furniture when a small white stool did not suffice. Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett were the choreographers of the fluid movements that defy description and Adrian Sutton did the interesting music. Ben Furey was the voice and dialect coach of the English accents that proved difficult to follow for some audience members around me.
It isn’t often that we see tour cast members make an entrance through the audience or speak lines from the front of the balcony; this added to the intimacy in this large venue. The audience laughed at the misinterpretations of Christopher without irony and these lightened the otherwise often heavy proceedings. Be warned that parts of the show are deafeningly loud and at least once too long in duration and ironically would not be appropriate for anyone with sensory issues.
This was a thinking person’s play that was fully immersive. Patrons familiar with the book enjoyed seeing how the artistic team brought some of the more difficult parts to the stage. I was able to put the pieces together without having read the novel and only missed on plot point that may have been intentionally eliminated or downplayed.
The Bushnell has adjusted the Saturday curtain times for this production to get everyone out early in time for New Year's Eve festivities: 1:00 and 6:30 p.m. shows this Saturday, December 31.