Autism has been a subject of growing fascination over the years, with movies such as Rain Man (1988), Mozart and the Whale (2005), and many others, attempting to make the public more aware of the augmented realities of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). With autism on the rise, the need to understand this new way of seeing the world has only increased.
Simon Stephens’ 2012 West End and 2014 Broadway drama The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which is based on the 2003 English mystery novel by Mark Haddon and is now playing in Raleigh Little Theatre’s Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, is, perhaps, one of the most lyrical and bold ventures yet written to portray the mind of a young man who experiences the world in such a unique and beautiful way.
For an autist, the outside world can often be jarring and confusing. The play captures that well by opening with the shocking scene of a dog that has been murdered (trigger warning). The story unfolds from there as Christopher (played by Michael Larson), a teenage boy with relatively high-functioning autism who lives alone with his father in Swindon, England, tries to figure out this horrifying event. His brilliant mind cannot handle inconsistencies with reality — he’s incapable of telling a lie.
Christopher is also incapable of reconciling such violence, so he sets himself on a mission to unravel the mystery of the pup’s untimely death. This leads him down a winding path of personal discovery and complicated human relationships, a life component that many autists have difficulty navigating and comprehending.
Christopher’s unwavering commitment to truth forces him to confront some of the most painful truths of his reality. Learning to reconcile and grow from them is an intensely compelling journey that the audience is privileged to witness.
Raleigh Little Theatre stages this show with mostly effective deftness. The set (designed by Sonya Drum) is a marvelous, surreal construction that crawls up one side of the Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre space in jumbled blocks of shades of gray, with pops of color and a ladder that leads to an upper level, where Christopher can escape — sometimes to his bedroom, sometimes to a fire escape. The palate is neutral, so that the space can be defined as needed throughout Christopher’s odyssey.
Director Patrick Torres brings out a marvelous performance from Michael Larson, an actor on the ASD spectrum who debuts on the RLT stage. arson’s portrayal of Christopher is both charming and brave, and at times so raw as to be beautifully unsettling.
Samantha Corey also shines as Shiboan, Christopher’s schoolteacher, who reads aloud the book that Christopher writes as an account of his experiences in such a lovely and empathetic way that it gives resounding voice to all the emotions Christopher himself cannot externally express.
Props also to Simon Kaplan’s rousing and explosive performance as Ed, Christopher’s father, which is balanced beautifully by a passionate performance of Judy, Christopher’s mother, by Rebecca Blum. Rounding out the cast are six Voices, who portray not only the ancillary characters with whom Christopher interacts throughout his journey, but also give voice to Christopher’s internal monologue, as needed.
Lucinda Danner Gainey stood out as one of Christopher’s kindest and most helpful neighbors; but all of the Voices spent a great deal of the play frequently moving in and out of scenes, moving set pieces around, sitting in the audience. The intention was surely to use these talented actors to portray the chaotic onslaught of information and interaction that is the outside world’s influence on Christopher; however, there was so much movement onstage that this reviewer found it more and more of a distraction as the play went on.
The complex choreography, which is beautifully designed by the talented Heather J. Strickland, added to a run time that came in at nearly three hours. It might have done the story more justice to keep things simple and let Christopher’s unique persona retain the audience’s focus.
Still, this mythical and mesmerizing journey is one worthy of experiencing. Areon Mobasher’s surreal, electronic sound design melds perfectly with Liz Grimes Droessler’s inspired lighting design and Darby Madewell’s projection design. Together with seamless stage direction (by David Wilk), they transport the audience into the inner workings of Christopher’s fascinating mind. Raleigh Little Theatre has, indeed, produced a venturesome and deeply empathic experience that is a standout in the Triangle theater scene.
RLT‘s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is selling out; and the run has already been extended through Sun day, Feb. 9th. So, get your tickets immediately if you want to take this spellbinding trip inside a truly beautiful mind.
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 19th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh BWW Review by Nicole Ackman: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-THE-CURIOUS-INCIDENT-OF-THE-DOG-IN-THE-NIGHT-TIME-Raleigh-Little-Theatre-20200119; Jan. 17th Raleigh, NC WRAL.com interview with actor Michael Larson and director Patrick Torres, conducted by Mandy Mitchell: https://www.wral.com/actor-with-autism-puts-extraordinary-mind-on-display-in-raleigh-little-theatre-production/18893638/; Jan. 16th Raleigh, NC Chatham Life & Style preview by Dustin K. Britt: https://chathamlifeandstyle.com/features-%26-reviews/f/in-rehearsal-the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time; and Jan. 9th Chapel Hill, NC WUNC/91.5 FM interview with director Patrick Torres and actor Monét Noelle Marshall, conducted by Frank Stasio for “The State of Things”: https://www.wunc.org/post/expanding-access-why-raleigh-little-theatre-making-effort-cast-actors-disabilities.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME at 8 p.m. Jan. 23-25, 3 p.m. Jan. 26, 8 p.m. Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 3 p.m. Feb. 2, 8 p.m. Feb. 6-8, and 3 p.m. Feb. 9 (Sensory-Friendly Performance) in RLT‘s Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $27 ($23 students and seniors 62+).
BOX OFFICE: 919-821-3111 or https://raleighlittletheatre.secure.force.com/.
SHOW: https://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/449278395735996/.
RLT‘S 2019-20 SEASON: https://raleighlittletheatre.org/announcing-the-2019-2020-season-now-then/.
PRESENTER: https://raleighlittletheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/RaleighLittleTheatre, https://twitter.com/RLT1936, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raleigh_Little_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/raleighlittletheatre.
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices and noise-reduction headphones are available for all performances.
NOTE 2: DJ GeoYio (Moore Square Magnet Middle School sixth grader George Yionoulis), who composes music and makes beats while living with autism, will provide preshow entertainment before the 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25th, performance.
NOTE 3: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26th, performance.
NOTE 4: There will be a post-show discussion with the cast, hosted by RDU on Stage editor Lauren Van Hemert after the show’s 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26th, performance.
NOTE 5: There will be another post-show discussion following the show’s 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 2nd, performance. Arts Access, Inc. executive director Betsy Ludwig will moderate a panel discussion on Autism, Family, and Representation in Theater and Media.
NOTE 6: There will be a Sensory-Friendly Performance at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9th.
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).
Patrick Torres (director and RLT artistic director): http://raleighlittletheatre.org/people/patrick-torres/ (RLT bio) and https://www.facebook.com/patrick.torres.585 (Facebook page).
Melanie Simmons of Cary, NC is a film and stage actress with a BA degree in Theatre from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, CA. She has studied acting with Sande Shurin Acting Studios in New York City and The Actor’s Workshop in Los Angeles, CA; and she now trains locally with Lynda Clark (stage), Daryl Ray Carlisle (film/commercial), and Rebekah Holland (voice). Simmons has performed at Raleigh Little Theatre in Raleigh, Forest Moon Theater in Wake Forest, Stageworks Theatre in Holly Springs, and many others. She is represented by Talent One Agency in Raleigh. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.