Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler reviews the Olivier Award-winning play based on a novel by Mark Haddon.
The opening tableau of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a new play by Simon Stephens based on the novel by Mark Haddon, is so shocking that it elicited audible gasps from the audience. Gasps that eventually melted into laughter, tears and an extraordinary emotional journey that follows the escapades of 15-year-old Christopher as he attempts to solve the “incident” that has occurred in his neighbor’s yard.
Christopher (played by Alex Sharp with some performances by Taylor Transch) is a special boy. Most will recognize his behaviors as signs of Asperger’s syndrome, but Haddon is quick to point out that this is not the central focus of the character, saying that it’s a novel about “difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way. It’s as much a novel about us as it is about Christopher.”
Playwright Simon Stephens transforms the storyline into a piece that feels as if it was originally intended for the theater, weaving the adults in Christopher’s life into a complicated 21st century algorithm of fractured relationships. Director Marianne Elliott (who helmed the Oliver Award-winning production at the National Theatre) along with choreographers Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett utilize the 10-member ensemble in ingenious and infinite ways—as animate as well as inanimate objects. Ian Barford as Christopher’s prone-to-violence father, Enid Grahm as his less-than-maternal mother Judy and Francesca Faridany as his educator lead the company of actors that is the primary conduit for Christopher’s emotional journey.
Providing a sensory framework Christopher’s hyper-focused journey is an ingenious set by Bunny Christie (who also designed costumes), video design by Finn Ross, lighting by Paule Constable, sound by Ian Dickinson and music by Adrian Sutton. Yes—they all deserve mention because it is the sum of the parts that makes Curious so compelling.
Mr. Sharp, a recent Julliard graduate making his Broadway debut, taps into Christopher’s mathematically driven consciousness with voltage and vulnerability. It’s a nearly impossible task, given the seemingly vast social limitations of the character. Prone to social anxiety, Christopher lives comfortably in his calculated inner world, avoiding physical touch and eye contact wherever possible. He often lacks empathy, instead, concerned only about the next step in his linear and hyper-focused plan. But buried deep within these characteristics often associated with Asperger’s, Mr. Sharp reveals a vulnerable boy on the brink of manhood—one who (in the briefest of moments) feels love, hurt and the infinity of emotions that seem like a privilege to the rest of us.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is one of those rare evenings of theater that is both joyous as well as heartbreaking. Christopher is the unlikeliest of heroes, but one you can’t help rooting for. And when the final bow is taken (be sure to stay for the “encore”), perhaps those in the audience will carry with them a tad more compassion, empathy and love for those who are considered “different.”
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
243 West 47th Street