It took the English a century and a half of debate before they opened the remarkable National Theatre of Great Britain on the Southbank in the late 1970s. Before that, the NT had been a glint in the eye of men and women, such as George Bernard Shaw, Lillian Baylis, and Harley Granville-Barker. They pushed, cajoled, agitated, and sermonized; but the Brits were, as ever, cautious. The purpose of the theater was to house a repertory of classic and modern plays that would collectively create a sense of the “state of the nation.”
In 1963, having worked out that a figurehead at the front of the effort might hasten the pace, an NT board selected Laurence Olivier as the NT’s first artistic director. Before their move to the monolithic, Brutalist South Bank home 14 years later, a building that Prince Charles once said looked like a Soviet power station (he was right!), the NT had its auspicious beginning just blocks away at the Old Vic. There, the company, including Alan Bates, Vanessa Redgrave, Maggie Smith, and Peter O’Toole, not to mention Olivier himself, held forth in a rotating series of productions, many of which have moved into the history books under L for Legendary.
Among the National Theatre’s successes in new writing for the theater was Tom Stoppard’s first play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (which, in the heat of the Vietnam escalation, presented us with typical Stoppardian wit, merry chaos and, among other memorable lines: “There must have been a time when we could have said ‘no.'”).
Other NT premieres included Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, David Hare’s Plenty, and War Horse, based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo. In their own way, each of those plays has served as a signpost for the current state of the nation, England.
The director of War Horse, Marianne Elliott, returned to the NT in 2012 to direct Simon Stephens’ adaptation of Mark Haddon’s beloved novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Opening in the NT’s smallest permanent venue, the Cottesloe Theatre (since re-christened the Dorfman Theatre), the play performed to overflow audiences before transferring to the West End and then to Broadway. That was five years ago, and the play is still going strong in various incarnations around the globe, including the Broadway touring production that took up residence last night at the Durham Performing Arts Center for a short run through Feb. 26th. Go see it if you can.
I’ve seen the show in three different cities, and I think the performance that I saw last night was the most affecting I’ve yet seen. The cast, well selected and at ease with the material, told the story of Christopher Boone (relentlessly played by Adam Langdon), with confidence, humor, and precision.
Full disclosure: a friend, Josephine Hall, who teaches theater at Greensboro College, is a tour understudy; and she was on last night playing Mrs. Shears and other parts, all of which she delivered with professional aplomb.
Christopher Boone is a teenage boy living in Swindon, 35 miles outside London, with his quietly troubled father Ed (Gene Gillette). Ed has recently lost his wife, Christopher’s mother. Christopher is on the autism spectrum, so Ed has his hands full. He is not a naturally nurturing person, and recent events in his life have turned his disposition dark.
The play begins with Christopher’s discovery of the corpse of Wellington, a curmudgeonly neighborhood dog, stabbed through with a pitchfork. Christopher is utterly unable to work out how anyone could do such a thing and determines that he will begin “investigating.”
Christopher spends much of his life trying to make sense out of a senseless world. He becomes agitated whenever anyone questions his truthfulness. Why would anyone lie? Isn’t the truth the obvious mark that we are all reaching for? And how can we hope to make sense out of the world if we don’t tell the truth?
Against his increasingly roiled father’s wishes, Christopher trolls the neighborhood, interviewing its inhabitants, seeking witnesses and clues. Most of the neighbors don’t like his unusual habit of getting straight to the point or are fearful of him as “the other.” He persists. His investigation leads him to a disturbing conclusion and to a greater understanding of the limitless ways in which human love can express itself … or be snuffed out.
Among the cast’s standouts are Amelia White as the Boones’ dotty neighbor, Mrs. Alexander; Geoffrey Wade as the hapless Reverend Peters; and Maria Elena Ramirez in the somewhat thankless role of Christopher’s heart-of-gold teacher, Siobhan. The cast, all of whom are superb, work together on Bunny Christie’s compelling set, which looks like a grid of lights, with trap doors that swing open to provide a few essential props, projections that take us on this wild journey with specificity while not condescending to our intelligence, and LED lights that blind, flash, pulsate, and sometimes literally mark Christopher’s path through a world that he is barely able to understand.
Throughout his journey, Christopher is assaulted with sights, sounds, and the casual selfishness of strangers. Yet, as he trundles on, moments of tenderness emerge. One involves the tube line worker played by a Francesca Choy-Kee, who first laughs at Christopher’s mannered directness and then, sensing a similarly lonely soul, tries hard to clearly direct him on, delivers just a glimpse of humanity at its best.
The brilliance of Marianne Elliott’s staging is that it puts us inside the head of Christopher. We begin to see and hear the world as the chaotic ramble of disjointed images and stimulants, to hear the unspecific turns of phrase that pass as human discourse: “Christopher, please wait.” “How long should I wait….?” “What are you doing here?” “I’m talking to you….” Etc. Mostly, we notice the ways in which we refuse to confront that disorderly world. In doing this, Elliott casually asks us to look again at our own actions and words, to consider whether we are contributing to the nonsensical jumble or helping to provide clarity. It is a subtly jarring idea that keeps the audience leaning forward throughout the evening.
There are some flaws in the production. I don’t think the toy train that appears at the end of Act I has the impact on a massive proscenium stage that it, perhaps, did in the relatively intimate Cottesloe. The frequent hoisting of Christopher aloft, though it allows us to viscerally experience moments when his unique mind is carrying him to a happy place, feels less tightly choreographed and isn’t as effective as it might have been in a smaller, more in-yer-face venue. The use of body mics helps to distance the audience from the very human emotions that are on display throughout. Those are quibbles. The overall impact of the storytelling is immense.
Tom Stoppard’s most recent play, The Hard Problem (also an NT premiere), asks a question that is beyond science: If each cell in the body lacks consciousness, then how can all those cells, working together, create a state of consciousness?
Mark Haddon’s book, and Simon Stephens’ straightforward, non-sentimental stage adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a simple tale of a boy coming to understand just a bit about those around him, looks past that question to the next one: Once consciousness is gained, then what? The answer comes back, roaring, from the stage.
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 23rd review by Dustin K. Britt, 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/autism-takes-center-stage-at-dpac-in-an-ingenious-adaptation-of-the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time/, respectively)
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22 and 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).
Raleigh, NC director and actor Jerome Davis and his wife, Simmie Kastner, founded Burning Coal Theatre Company in 1985. For Burning Coal, Davis has directed Rat in the Skull, Winding the Ball (in Raleigh and New York City), The Steward of Christendom, Hamlet, Night and Day, David Edgar’s Iron Curtain Trilogy (in Raleigh and London), Company, Shining City, The Weir and St. Nicholas (the last as an actor), The Road to Mecca, Juno & the Paycock, The Man Who Tried to Save the World (as playwright), Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Taming of the Shrew, Inherit the Wind, Hysteria, 1960, The Seafarer, Enron, Jude the Obscure Parts 1 & 2 and Sunday in the Park with George. He has also directed Benjamin Britten’s Turn of the Screw for the North Carolina Opera, Of Mice and Men for Temple Theatre in Sanford, and Red for the Actors Guild of Lexington. Jerry Davis has studied with Uta Hagen, Nikos Psacharapolous, and Julie Bovasso. He has studied or worked with Adrian Hall, Richard Jenkins, Hope Davis, Ellen Burstyn, Oliver Platt, Amanda Peet and Ralph Waite. He has worked at Trinity Rep in Providence; NJ Shakespeare; People’s Light & Theatre, near Philadelphia, the Phoenix Theatre at SUNY/Purchase; Avalon Rep; the Mint; Columbia University; and many others. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.