PPAC's "Curious Incident": It All Adds Up

Adam Langdon in "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time"
(photo: Joan Marcus)

As its title suggests, the play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time promises to be an unusual experience. What piques our curiosity is not just the strangeness of the title but the equally strange journey it suggests. Based on the popular 2003 novel by Mark Haddon, its West End premiere took place in 2012, subsequently brought to Broadway in 2014. It became the longest running Broadway play in the past decade, winning five Tony Awards including Best Play and Best Direction of a Play (for Marianne Elliott, who helmed the London version as well as this touring one). Light years ahead of any theatrical production with its technical brilliance (and no fewer than 373 lighting cues), here are a few stunning facts about just how complex and complicated those tech elements are in this National Touring Company. Starting with five tons of steel in the floor and walls, there are fourteen one-ton chain hoists for the lighting rigging and motor to accommodate thirty-one variations of stage heights and rakes. There are 234 sound cues, consisting of some 2,593 differing elements. Its use of six projectors produces ten and a half million pixels across the stage. The results are absolutely mesmerizing (especially a harrowing subway scene). It's no wonder that sound, lighting and set design all won 2013 Olivier Awards in London, and lighting and scenic design for the 2015 Tony Awards. In the present production, Scenic and Costume Design are by Bunny Christie, with Lighting Design by Paule Constable, Video Design by Finn Ross, and Sound Design by Ian Dickinson, all impeccable and all repeating their London contributions.

But technical achievements aside, what most distinguishes this theatrical treat is its amazingly involving storytelling, translated and transformed from page to stage by the playwright Simon Stephens. As they say about restaurants with dazzling design, you can't eat the d├ęcor. What you can take in and digest is the convoluted yet totally absorbing tale of a fifteen year old (presumably with autism or Aspergers Syndrome, but the play doesn't address diagnoses) who discovers the titular canine done in by a pitchfork and proceeds on a quest to solve the murder in true Holmes-ian fashion, appropriate since the title of the book and play reference a quote by the great fictional detective himself from Conan Doyle's short story Silver Blaze. But this is not a mystery in the deductive sense. What matters in the end is not the solution but the process of reasoning, primarily by Christopher John Francis Boone (Adam Langdon), and those with whom he intersects along the way, from his teacher Siobhan (Maria Elena Ramirez), to his father Ed (Gene Gillette) to a crucial discovery at the termination of his quest, Judy (Felicity Jones Latta). At some performances, given the demands of the role, Benjamin Wheelwright will play Christopher. But every member of this ensemble, including a dog (named Sandy) and a curious rat (named Toby), has been artfully chosen for maximum impact under Elliott's keen direction. The play also conveys a sense of humor, as when Christopher remarks that “the word 'metaphor' is a metaphor”, “acting is like lying”, or when the obvious is stated, “we're not exactly low maintenance, are we?”.

There is little one can describe that wouldn't negatively affect the unanticipated but real joy of discovery of the play's revelations, even for those familiar with the source novel. Nothing one has heard about its visual and auditory splendors could possibly prepare a theatergoer for the overall impact of this work. There were some sound difficulties related to the more intimate moments in the play being performed in such a large venue, but ultimately this is a mathematically ingenious piece that succeeds in presenting a multi-faceted, time-warping, mind-boggling and satisfying resolution. The level of astonishment is, well, immeasurable.

All for a piece that features the versatility of math. Go figure. As Christopher himself would no doubt put it: Q.E.D.

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