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

Craig Mathers & Eliott Purcell in "Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime"
(photo: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots)

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, adapted by Simon Stephens, the play's 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. It was 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. These technical aspects are crucial to the mathematically intricate light and sound cues of the play. In the present production by SpeakEasy Stage Company, the Scenic Design is by Christopher and Justin Swader, and the Lighting Design is by Jeff Adelberg, with Sound Design by David Remedios and Costume Design by Gail Astrid Buckley. Each deserves special up-front mention given the sheer complexity of light and sound cues, and visuals. But technical achievements aside, what most distinguishes this theatrical treat is its amazingly involving storytelling, translated and transformed from page to stage by Stephens. But, as they say about restaurants with dazzling design, you can't eat the décor.

What you can take in and digest is the convoluted yet totally absorbing tale of a fifteen year old (presumably with autism) 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 (Eliott Purcell), and those with whom he intersects along the way, from his teacher Siobhan (Jackie Davis) to his father Ed (Craig Mathers) to a crucial discovery at the termination of his quest, involving his mother Judy (Laura Latreille). 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 by his father: “we're not exactly low maintenance, are we?”. The amazing reality for anyone familiar with the novel is how Stephens managed to adapt the source given its multi-level form. It stands as a major theatrical accomplishment.

Laura Latreille & Eliott Purcell in "Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime"
(photo: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots)

It should come as no surprise that Purcell (from the SpeakEasy mounting of Hand to God) is excellent in the central and crucial lead. He's fascinating to watch in a very challenging role, always completely in character. It's a star-making performance, and he nails it. The rest of the cast are all superbly chosen, from Mather to Latreille to Davis, well-supported by the small ensemble each enacting multiple roles: Christine Power, Tim Hackney, Cheryl McMahon, Damon Singletary, Alejandro Simoes and Gigi Watson. Under the precise direction by the company's Producing Artistic Director Paul Daigneault, with essential Movement Direction by Yo-El Cassell, this production may well be the best this company has ever presented, and that's saying quite a bit. By the end of the play you really believe you can answer Christopher when he asks: "Does that mean I can do anything?".   And attention must be paid to the critical work by Dialect Coach Amelia Broome.

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. It's most appreciated at a venue this size (the National Tour was seen at a nearby theater with some three thousand seats, a travesty). It cries out for a more intimate experience such as this one. If you think you've already seen this piece, think again. You owe it to yourself to see this up-close-and-personal version. Ultimately this is a mathematically ingenious piece that succeeds in presenting a multi-faceted, time-warping, mind-boggling, ultimately satisfying resolution. You simply can't quantify the value of leaving the theater with a huge smile on your face, especially in these worrisome times for our country. 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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