By Patrick Hurley
Theatricality and complex narrative have rarely aligned as staggeringly brilliant as they do in the highly sensorial production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, based on the novel by Mark Haddon. playing now at the Ahmanson Theatre.
Told from the perspective of Christopher (Adam Langdon), a fifteen-year old boy who is a genius at math, fascinated by the universe, but entirely repelled by the thought of human contact. Though never utterly expressed in the dialogue, Christopher is clearly a young man on the spectrum of Autism, and every aspect of this production from the ingenious set, designed by Bunnie Christie to the pulsing and thrilling lighting, designed Paule Constable, attempts to pull us into Christopher’s mind, into a frenzied state of compartments and chalk drawings, of prime numbers, it’s a pulsing, chaotically disorganized young man’s search for meaning. The production is astonishing in its ability to create an internalized landscape in the attempt to give us an understanding of a mind that probably doesn’t work the same as ours.
At the top of the play, a local dog has been murdered, stabbed to death with a gardening fork. The dog, named Wellington, was also Christopher’s best friend. And so naturally, Christopher wants to discover the culprit. He puts his sleuthing hat on, and is relentless in his investigative skills, employing every tactic he must have learned from detective novels, movies and television shows to bring justice to his murdered friend. And for the first half of the show, we move through scene after scene, location after location, meeting characters from his neighborhood, as well as his father Ed (Gene Gillette), without ever leaving the cavernous and light pulsing world of Christopher’s mind.
The story moves forward quickly and stays diligently on Christopher’s obsessive focus on his friends death, when suddenly there is a compelling and very dramatic anagnorisis. A reveal that takes Christopher from ignorance to awareness which, in turn, then compels him to take to the big city, all by himself, to uncover truths about his past that have been kept from him. The play shifts from one of mystery to an internalized bildungsroman with a less than typical protagonist.
Playwright Simon Stephens, quite cleverly, keeps the story as simple as he can. The complications arise due to the fact that we are viewing this story, and indeed, this entire world, through the eyes of an Autistic boy. And while we can intellectualize what we’re seeing, and are given an overabundance of sensory experiences, the emotional moments take us by surprise, and allow us to watch a coming-of-age story in a way we’ve never seen before.
Adam Langdon is marvelous as Christopher. His specificity and precision are beautifully endearing and have the ability to make us uncomfortable and laugh, often at the same time. His passion for math and space coupled with his inability to appreciate metaphor and his lack of need of human contact, give him levels to play that rise far, far above a one dimensional or even caricature of a young man dealing with autism.
Director Marianne Elliot employs so many theatrical devices that, at one point, the production feels like sensory overload. A key into the insight of this young man’s mind is not only the physicality, the lighting, and the set, but also the sometimes overwhelming sound, designed by Ian Dickinson. Near the end of Act One, for instance, a sequence occurs that combines several technical elements into one moment and the audience is left holding our breath, on the edge of our seats, and in utter awe of the artistry that Ms. Elliot and her team have crafted.
This is an absolute must see! It’s a hyper-theatrical, insightful piece about our need to understand each other with more sincerity and depth, and it’s thrilling as hell to watch.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
By Simon Stephens
Directed by Marianne Elliott
Tickets are available
Online at http://www.CenterTheatreGroup.org
By calling Center Theatre Group Audience Services at 213.972.4400
In person at the Center Theatre Group box office at The Music Center
Group Sales: 213.972.7231
Deaf community information and charge: visit CenterTheatreGroup.org/ACCESS.
Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre
At the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012.