The first time I encountered The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was in my ninth grade English class, when my teacher made a tangential comment about its brilliance as a novel. The title and the few plot points she mentioned stuck with me, even though I never got around to reading it.
During my senior year of high school, a Broadway run of the play adaptation was announced, and I took it as a sign that I should finally check the book out of the library and see what it was all about. I ended up devouring the story in just three days, then rushing to my laptop to purchase tickets to see the production.
A few months later, on a freezing, rainy afternoon in Manhattan, I finally saw it with my mom. And I was floored. I was in complete awe of every single element that went into the production; the attention to detail was impeccable. While true to the book, the page-to-stage translation was striking. If you had asked me to adapt and design the show after reading the book, I wouldn’t have produced anything nearly as daring, innovative, or moving as the impressive creative team that was actually behind it did.
For those of you aren’t familiar with the novel, the story follows Christopher, an autistic fifteen-year-old from a small English town. His mathematical genius and observational prowess are only matched by his aversion to small talk and need to take everything literally (don’t go metaphoric on him).
One night, he comes across the body of his neighbor’s dog, pierced with a garden fork, and he intends to find out who the killer is. Accompanied by his pet rat Toby and ignoring his father’s warnings to stay out of other people’s business, Christopher sets off investigating and ends up miles away in London on a journey that shows him the world, uncovers lost secrets, and leads him to life-changing self-discovery.
A story about bravery, potential, and understanding your loved ones, it struck a deep chord in me, and I was moved to tears both while reading the book and watching the play.
This Sunday, I had the pleasure of seeing Curious Incident for a third time with my friend Rose (I ended up returning to Manhattan last summer with my mom for a second viewing after I cried during Alex Sharp’s Tony acceptance speech).
Beforehand, we grabbed lunch al fresco in Georgetown with an old friend at a little Italian place called Il Canale, so called because it lies just steps away from the canal that runs through Georgetown.
The first thing I noticed upon entering the theatre was the set, designed by Bunny Christie. Almost the same one used in New York (it seems this set does not have trap door capabilities), it is a simple, unassuming grid. At first glance, it doesn’t appear remarkable, but rather bland, boring, unoriginal, or as my mom would say, “I paid how much for that?”
But as soon as the lights dim and the show begins, the set transforms into the platform through which the audience becomes immersed in Christopher’s mind. Used for everything from secret compartments to hidden staircases, the grid lights up and becomes the blueprint for understanding our protagonist.
Since both the book and the play are more or less told through first person accounts (Christopher’s teacher Siobhan reads from the narrative Christopher wrote of his experiences), the audience is asked to truly see the world through someone else’s perspective, and this set is the perfect way to do so.
Another astonishing element of the production is the movement, directed by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett (the latter of whom I had the good fortune of running into the very same day I first saw Curious Incident on Broadway).
True to style, their choreography and blocking challenge the traditional role of ensemble members: they embody not only the people Christopher encounters, but they also assume the roles of props, set pieces, and other vehicles to make Christopher’s imagination come to life.
The experience of seeing this play is multi-sensory, complete with projections and technological musical scoring that give the audience a fast-paced, and sometimes frightening, look at the world through Christopher’s eyes.
Adam Langdon’s performance as Christopher was transformative. Stepping into the highly demanding role, Langdon created an engaging protagonist, keeping me on the edge of my seat even though I already knew what was about to happen. Langdon’s portrayal of Christopher is the one that finally made me admit that I had fallen in love with Christopher as a character. He was endearing, inquisitive, and quirky in all the right ways.
The play is framed as though it truly is a play based on the book Christopher wrote about his experiences, with moments of stepping out of the narrative and acknowledging that they are, in fact, performing a play. This could easily seem gimmicky, but is charming and tongue-in-cheek with a sort of Parks and Recreation self-awareness. I think this choice speaks to the power of theatre, and the power of telling your story; of being seen, heard, and understood.
The storytelling itself is masterful. So much relies on the silences found in life, those all-too-human pauses where nothing is said, but so much is understood. It is these silences that are beautifully acted and convey emotions in a way words fail to capture.
At its core, this is a show about being different. To that effect, we are all Christopher. We have all been the outsider at one point or another, and we’ve all felt that pain of not being able to connect or be understood when that’s the one thing we most desperately need.
Christopher’s journey of encountering the unknown, being different, being afraid, but diving in headfirst anyways, is one that resonates with all of us. So, what are you waiting for? Dive into Christopher’s world and be changed forever.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time ran at the Kennedy Center through October 23rd. To find out if it’s coming to your city and to purchase tickets, visit curiousonbroadway.com/tour.php