Ingenious play about an autistic genius
Imagine — or allow the Round House Theatre’s excellent cast and stage crew to imagine for you — the story of a 15-year-old math genius with Asperger Syndrome (a form of autism), whose attempts to solve the murder of a neighbor’s dog leads him to delve into the mysteries of the human mind and heart.
The boy, whose relations with others of the human species are, at best, on the borderline of humane, wants to use the methods of Sherlock Holmes, one of his few heroes, to solve the pitchfork killing of the pet.
The crime-detecting attempts by young Christopher Boone, who hates to be physically touched and is literal to a fault, brings about another enigma — one surrounding his separated parents, who have hidden the reasons they are no longer together as a family.
That’s the plot of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, now playing at the Bethesda theater. The Tony Award-winning play opened in London in 2012, played on Broadway in 2014, and is now having its D.C.-regional theater debut.
Playwright Simon Stephens based it on a 2003 novel of the same name by Mark Haddon. Although the acclaimed, best-selling novel was narrated by Christopher in the first person, the play uses other devices, such as readings by Christopher’s teacher from a book Christopher is supposedly writing.
Difficult jobs done well
The character of Christopher, who must (and does) carry the show, is performed by Harrison Bryan, who conveys the boy’s sensory-overloaded universe expertly. His believable performance offers the audience an emotional understanding of what it’s like to be “the other.”
The stutter, the face tics, the yowling, the body contortions — especially when Christopher discovers the letters written to him by his mother and hidden by his father — push Christopher to a deeper, more credible life.
The wonderful stage-crafting helps the audience delve into what is going on inside Christopher’s head by graphically exposing it. It’s all done with video projections and choreographed crowd movements.
What is most true about Christopher — the confusion and love and intellect inside the head and the heart — become almost magically visual through the London Underground crowds, the sound, the light, and scribblings on the back of the set.
Kudos to co-directors Ryan Rilette and Jared Mezzocchi, who is also credited with the truly imaginative projection design. Choreographers Colette Krogol and Matt Reeves moved the crowd, while Sherrice Mojgani is credited with the flashing mood-lighting and Andres Pluess with the mind-boggling (for Christopher) sound effects.
Paige Hathaway was scenic designer for the play, where doors and windows and boxes at first visually presented on a screen open three dimensionally.
The cast also included Tessa Klein as Siobhan, who sympathetically portrayed Christopher’s kind teacher; Tonya Beckman as Judy, Christopher’s confused-on-the-outside, loving-on-the-inside mother; and Cody Nickell as Ed, the boy’s father — malicious in words and certainly in some deeds, but also a loyal (if maybe too often loudly angry) patriarch, who wants and aims for nothing but the best for his sometimes confused, sometimes clearer-minded-than-most son.
Others in the excellent supporting cast playing neighbors, London subway riders, etc., include Haboud Ebrahimzadeh, Laura C. Harris, Eric Hissom, Kimberly Schraf, Kathryn Tkel and Leroy Wilson.
There is also an incredibly well-behaved puppy (on the matinee when the show was reviewed) making an entrance in the final scene.
All’s well that ends well
Several issues are resolved for the principal characters, which make for the play’s happy ending.
There is also a brief epilogue when Christopher comes back (after the standing ovation) to show his mathematical prowess, and to remind probably all of us, certainly this reviewer, of all our geometry, algebra and calculus shortcomings.
The two-act play, which runs about two and a half hours with one long intermission, is a true theater experience. Not only will you enjoy the excellent acting and wonderful adaption of a novel with deeply moving characters. A Curious Incident also offers a thought-provoking view of the mind and soul of its principal character through scintillating stage crafting.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs at the RoundHouse Theatre through December 22. Many performances offer a post-show discussion.
Tickets are $51 to $83. No senior discounts, but all tickets to Tuesday night performances are buy one, get one free.