“It was too loud,” the pink-haired boy declares. He is soft-spoken, eyes cast downward as he tugs at his jacket zipper. We are standing in the red-carpeted lobby after Tuesday night’s opening performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Durham Performing Arts Center.
As the crowd spilled into the dark Durham night, I ran into one of my own students: Lane, a fifth-grader with autism.
According to Lane’s parents, he spent most of the show either (A) nodding his head in agreement with the playwright or (B) face-in-lap covering his ears.
This is not surprising. This production uses high-octane visual and auditory stimuli to immerse the audience in the mind of teenager with autism. Sound designer Ian Dickinson has the sound turned up to 11, Paule Constable’s intense lighting rivals most rock concerts, and Finn Ross’ four-part projection system puts IMAX® to shame.
When someone touches the play’s protagonist, Christopher Boone (played by Adam Langdon), the speakers shriek and the stage lights flash — highlighting his sensational agony. Discomfort with physical touch is a textbook characteristic of those with autism.
This 2.5-hour experiment in sensory overload is fittingly unpleasant for an audience of neuro-typical individuals. However, for someone “on the spectrum,” it is exponentially more affecting. It is high-definition autism. One is rarely as trapped as in a packed theater.
“What did you think about the story?” I asked Lane.
He replies, “I thought it was good.”
My question is too open-ended for this hyper-literal 10-year-old. I need to be more specific.
“Do you think Christopher Boone was an accurate representation of a kid with autism?”
“Well,” Lane answers, “I think the author got it mostly right. And the lead actor. He understands what it’s like to be overwhelmed by what’s going on around you, and how I can get obsessed by an idea or topic.”
Lane doubtlessly shares experiences with Christopher Boone. Shocked by the behavior of his fellow “special-ed” students. Wearing the same hoodie day after day. Engulfed by the cacophony of city traffic. Perplexed by the expressions — both facial and verbal — of others. Lack of eye contact, physical tics, self-stimming patterns, exaggerated speech patterns.
Through first-person narrative, we see the labyrinthine world through Christopher’s eyes; and anyone with a cursory knowledge of Asperger’s or other autistic traits can spot the clues: fumbles in interpersonal communication and errors in sensory processing.
Telegraphing Christopher’s unique internal monologue from the page to the stage appears impossible. Hamlet’s soliloquies share his every thought quite effectively, but contemporary playwrights are wary of such a ham-fisted technique. We can literally read Christopher’s mind in the novel. But how does one see and hear it live?
Playwright Simon Stephens, in his ingenious adaptation of Haddon’s novel, relies on direct audience address for much of the play. Christopher’s special-education teacher (a subtle Maria Elena Ramirez) reads from the boy’s memoir as Christopher (a dextrous Adam Langdon) acts out the story. Joining him are father Ed (a dynamic Gene Gillette) and mother Judy (a convincing Felicity Jones Latta).
Autism advocate and scientist Dr. Temple Grandin argues that people with autism “think in pictures.” Haddon’s book and the National Theatre’s stage adaptation of it, are in line with that concept. Projections help visionary director Marianne Elliott to bring to life Christopher’s illustrations from novel — the key to his perspective.
Adam Langdon’s remarkable performance sometimes feels disingenuous, as his playful voice does not match the droll monotone of the book. Still, he captures many of the hallmark characteristics of autism while avoiding cliché.
A skilled ensemble represents our young hero’s biggest obstacle: other people. Confident though the national tour’s troupe may be, the miming (choreographed by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett of Frantic Assembly), is not always clear.
The theatrical space created by scenic designer Bunny Christie is mathematical in nature. Coordinate planes on the interior walls of a black cube, with minimal, polygonal furniture, confine us to the left hemisphere of Christopher’s brain.
The added meta storyline of Christopher turning his book into a play, and the resulting self-referential asides, are weeds in an otherwise vibrant garden. The addition of a few lines beyond the novel’s perfect ending leave one feeling uneasy. Hopefully, a few sound and lighting irregularities, when actors enter the audience, were fixed by Wednesday.
DUSTIN’S VERDICT: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a clever adaptation and electric theatrical experience. Don’t rush out after curtain call, lest you miss an important appendix to the story.
LANE’S VERDICT: “This was the first play I’d ever seen, and it was cool to see somebody like me,” said Lane, a 10-year-old with autism.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 22nd Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Jeffrey Kare: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-THE-CURIOUS-INCIDENT-OF-THE-DOG-IN-THE-NIGHT-TIME-National-Tour-at-Durham-Performing-Arts-Center-20170222 and Feb. 20th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh BWW TV interview with actor Adam Langdon, conducted by Jeffrey Kare: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-TV-Adam-Langdon-of-THE-CURIOUS-INCIDENT-OF-THE-DOG-IN-THE-NIGHT-TIME-National-Tour-20170220; Feb. 22nd Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/review-beyond-your-curious-imagination/article_3cf14212-f937-11e6-980a-47044257146f.html and Feb. 16th preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/curious-new-play-the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in/article_dc9c8b62-f3ee-11e6-99ea-031796c8aeb0.html (Note: You must subscribe to read these articles); Feb. 22nd Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article134291174.html; Feb. 22nd Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/02/thoroughly-original-dpacs-the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time-is-a-must-see/; Feb. 22nd Raleigh, NC WRAL.com video interview with actor Benjamin Wheelwright and animal wrangler Cara Kilduff, conducted by Renee Chou: http://www.wral.com/entertainment/video/16544384/; and Feb. 11th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time/Event?oid=4995526 (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Feb. 21st Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell and the Feb. 22nd review by Jerome Davis, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/02/dpac-presents-simon-stephens-multiple-olivier-and-tony-award-winning-play-the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time-on-feb-21-26/ and http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/02/the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-times-cast-tells-the-story-with-confidence-humor-and-precision/, respectively.)
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23, 8 p.m. Feb. 24, 2 and 8 p.m. Feb. 25, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Feb. 26 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $30-$155. Click here for DPAC Special Offers.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/2271507.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBQJJlTzhUg.
DPAC‘S SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: http://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2016-17.
THE TOUR: http://curiousonbroadway.com/, https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time–501083, https://www.facebook.com/CuriousBroadway, and https://twitter.com/CuriousBroadway.
TOUR CAST AND CREATIVE TEAM: http://curiousonbroadway.com/#cast.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25th, performance.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003 mystery novel): http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/73405/the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time-by-mark-haddon/9781101911617/ (Penguin Random House) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Curious_Incident_of_the_Dog_in_the_Night-Time (Wikipedia).
The Novel: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Mark Haddon (English novelist): http://markhaddon.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/mark-haddon-496546 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Haddon (Wikipedia).
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2012 West End and 2014 Broadway drama): http://www.curiousonstage.com/ (official West End website), https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time (National Theatre show page), http://curiousonbroadway.com/ (official Broadway website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time-496543 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Curious_Incident_of_the_Dog_in_the_Night-Time_%28play%29 (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://cdn.spotcointeractive.com/websites/curiousincident/_downloads/CuriousIncident-StudyGuide.pdf (National Theatre).
Simon Stephens (English playwright): http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsS/stephens-simon.html (Doollee.com: The Playwrights Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/simon-stephens-496545 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Stephens (Wikipedia).
Dustin K. Britt is a Triangle native who earned an M.A.Ed. in Special Education from East Carolina University. He has been a school teacher and job trainer for individuals with autism spectrum disorders for nearly a decade. In addition, Dustin is a local theater actor and regular crew member. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.