Unlike most of us lazy mortals, Christopher sees everything. And in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, now playing at the Kennedy Center, we see the world through his unique perspective – brought unforgettably to life with dazzling stage and lighting that is nothing short of virtuosic.
Adapted by Simon Stephens from Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel of the same name, the Tony-award winning adaptation of Incident tells the story of a British teenager (Adam Langdon) with Asperger S yndrome living outside London with his father (Gene Gillette) in the aftermath of what we learn was seemingly a family tragedy. Gillette has found himself as a single parent, left to struggle with connecting with a most unusual son.
Christopher struggles with many of the most quotidian elements of daily life, such as making small talk with his classmates and picking up on social cues. Unable to tolerate even being touched lest he break down into a fit, Christopher prefers to spend his time mostly locked away in the world he has created for himself in his room. With an innate gift for numbers, he is preparing to take his math A-levels as the youngest student to do so at his school. (He refers to his classmates as “stupid” with his own particular brand of tact.)
Math offers a refuge – a place where patterns can easily be detected and a “correct” solution can be found. Christopher seeks to apply the same type of patterns to his chaotic home life, a search that sets the plot in action when he stumbles upon the death of his neighbor’s dog, Wellington. Christopher dons his detective’s hat (the story’s title derived from a Sherlock Holmes story) in an obsessive mission to identify the culprit – a quest that ultimately sends him out on a journey into the perils of the wider world and London, where he finds challenges in applying his mathematical tool kit to solving problems involving other human beings.
Langdon is compelling as Christopher, fully dominating the stage with a memorable persona, albeit one of a character that can be a bit overwhelming to spend two and a half hours with at times. There are also especially strong performances from Gillette and Maria Elena Ramirez, as a teacher who encourages Christopher’s gift for storytelling as he narrates his odyssey.
Some of the pleasures of Haddon’s novel were the lengths it adopted to place the reader in such a unique vantage point, with chapters numbered by prime numbers, for example, rather than successive. The theatrical version takes the immersion to the next level, with the stage itself as arguably the true breakout star. Under the direction of Marianne Elliot and the lighting design of Paule Constable, Christopher’s internal hopes and fears are brought to with a high-tech set and lighting wizardry. They must be seen to be fully appreciated.
closes October 23, 2016
Details and tickets
Numbers and patterns appear and reappear in strange motifs in the background. The chorus of voices in Christopher’s head is manifested in a shadowy line-up of performers, with a terrifying onslaught of strobe lights bathing the audience as Christopher’s journey takes dark turns. Theater lovers will be reminded of the enormous imaginative capacity that the medium holds for telling stories in ways that can feel almost cinematic.
Less successful are a number of self-referential winks breaking the third wall to acknowledge that Christopher’s story is a production on stage. I found these to hold no clear purpose beyond generating some easy chuckles. The production did drag a bit for this viewer, clocking in at quite a generous running length for a relatively intimate story. I suspect that a few of the vignettes establishing Christopher’s estrangement and attempts to find a place in the world could have been streamlined a bit in the original script.
The source novel has been criticized in recent years for its depiction of Asperger’s, with Haddon conceding that he conducted relatively limited research on the condition. The truth is that Christopher’s character rouses our empathy less because he has a disability and more because he is an outsider – a condition that all of us can relate to at one point or another. The power of Incident is the innovative and imaginary ways that it employs to show us the world from an unusual perspective – and remind us that we are all straining to find patterns and meaning in chaos.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Simon Stephens. Based on the novel by Mark Haddon. Directed by Marianne Elliott. Cast: Adam Langdon, Benjamin Wheelwright, Maria Elena Ramirez, Gene Gillette, Felicity Jones Latta, Amelia White, Kathy McCafferty, John Hemphil, Brian Robert Burns, Francesca Choy-Kee, Geoffrey Wade, Josephine Hall, Robyn Kerr, Tim McKiernan, J. Paul Nicholas, Tim Wright.Lighting design by Paule Constable. National tour presented by The Kennedy Center. Reviewed by Daron Christopher
Mike C says
I am actually interested in seeing a good yarn, which this was, and not on whether it fits someones definition of some particular psychological disorder, which the play did not define, and thus which we the audience simply had to deal with.
This review describes Christopher Boone as “British teenager … with Asperger Syndrome”, an inaccurate description that doesn’t do justice to the disingenuous way National Theatre approaches the disability.
In 2009 Haddon admitted to doing no research when writing his book and even claimed that “curious incident is not a book about asperger’s” [goo.gl/nYpRgJ]. Ros Hayes of the National Theater says that since Boone never specifies the name of his condition, any possible interpretation the audience has of the character is valid (goo.gl/1cSov6). This position allows the company to profit from the public’s interest in autism without taking responsibility for how they represent the condition.
This story is widely hated by real autistics for perpetuating some of the most stigmatising stereotypes about autism – Boone is violent, unempathic and his condition causes his parents to separate. These are the myths that fuel school bullying, employment discrimination and darker forms of abuse.
If you wish to see more autistic responses to Curious Incident, I’ve got some here goo.gl/Hx3Byw.
Anyone genuinely interested in immersing themselves in the world of autism should avoid Curious Incident. They should read the writings of actual autistics, I recommend this wonderful list from Emma’s Hope Book (goo.gl/ZNJMrn). And the best thing is, unlike the play, you don’t have to pay to read these blogs.