The film “Rain Man” was groundbreaking in its depiction of the life of a man living with autism. Raymond Babbitt showed audiences mannerisms, quirks and challenges that most had never considered. As good as the Oscar-winning film was, it was impossible to know exactly what Raymond was feeling, seeing or hearing. We watched from the outside. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” takes this subject to another level and forces theatregoers to actually experience a small part of what it must be like to live with this terrible condition.
Central to the story is Christopher (Adam Langdon), a high-functioning teenager with autism. He discovers that his neighbor’s dog has been murdered and sets out to find the culprit. Along the way, he also uncovers family secrets and learns what he can achieve when he is determined to succeed. The story is simple and easy to follow but the real experience is in how the elements unfold around us.
The stage itself resembles a geometric grid, upon which Christopher draws his ideas and his plans. These panels often feature lights or projections to illustrate part of the story, be it a math problem, the London underground or simply one of the times that his mind goes into overload. In these moments, the show truly succeeds. While those without autism will likely never know exactly what it is like to experience this affliction, “Curious Incident” uses sounds and images to overload the audience in much the same way as an autistic child must feel. It is overwhelming but adds so much to the story and to the understanding of Christopher and why he is the way he is.
The performances all around are outstanding. A cast of 12 fills out the various people Christopher encounters, including his father Ed (a heartbreaking Gene Gillette), his mother Judy (the equally good Felicity Jones Latta) and his teacher Siobhan (fantastic understudy Josephine Hall at my performance). Much like the musical “Chicago” the ensemble stays on stage throughout most of the show. At times, they are specific characters like a priest or a teacher, at others they are a part of Christopher himself. This is a show that would improve (if possible) from a second viewing if only to watch the ensemble create their craft. But the real find here is Christopher himself, Adam Langdon.
Landon inhabits Christopher and is rarely, if ever, off stage. He is constantly in motion with the rare exception of a few quiet moments, but usually he is almost manic and his tantrums and outbursts are loud and frightening. When he feels threatened, the show finds ways through the various sensory elements to make the audience feel the same. At times, the show is as loud as a heavy metal rock concert but switches on a dime to a quiet, tender moment then back again before you’ve had a chance to adjust. It’s jarring and that’s to the show’s benefit.
This is a remarkable piece of theatre from the same people who brought us the equally-impressive “War Horse.” It also features one of the best act ending payoffs in recent memory, with the final moments of act one set up throughout the entire first seventy minutes, culminating with a beautifully staged tableau and a genuine “oh wow!” moment.
And be sure to stick around after the curtain call for a special treat.
****1/2 out of *****
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”
A new play by Simon Stephens
Based on the novel by Mark Haddon
Directed by Marianne Elliott
Broadway Across America – The Hobby Center
Now through January 29th
Photo: Gene Gillette as Ed and Adam Langdon as Christopher in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” at Broadway Across America at The Hobby Center