The Curious of the Dog in the Night-Time is based on the 2003 novel by Mark Haddon and came over to Broadway from where it was a hit on the West End. I had heard wonderful things about the play, but it was never really on my radar because it isn’t a musical (yeah, I know) and there is something sci-fi looking about the advertisements and production photos I’ve seen, reminding me of the 1982 film Tron.
The story is about a fifteen-year-old boy named Christopher (played eerily well by newcomer Alex Sharp) who has an unspecified social disorder where he can’t stand to be touched, is immune to subtlety, and doesn’t grasp metaphors. He speaks as if he’s leaping from one cliff to the next, but he is very gifted mathematically and is looking forward to taking a math exam, apparently years before his peers. His mother has been dead for two years, and he is being raised by his single father who is alternatively gruff and impatient and then supportive and firmly on his son’s side.
The play opens as Christopher’s neighbor is screaming about someone murdering her dog, and she assumes that he is the culprit. Christopher is understandably distraught, ends up attacking a police officer, and winds up in trouble with his dad, who isn’t understanding about the situation. Against his father’s wishes, Christopher sets out to solve the crime on his own, gathering interviews with neighbors and clues, but the murder of the dog is just the catalyst for a journey of discovery and personal growth. To reveal more would be wrong, for sure.
The set consists of electronic panels that rise up to the flies on the left, center, and right, and these panels are divided up like graph paper used in geometry. These electronic panels are used throughout to demonstrate Christopher’s thought process as well as to suggest locations, as the story spreads out to far more settings than a basic unit set could convey. There is a very geometric, digital look to the show, but it is all used to tell the story. The effects are never showy, and there are precious few real props. There are often sound effects and miming to suggest phones, books, letters – it’s really an amazingly engaging way to tell this story. A group of actors play many small roles and all alternate places on the stage, and they are all first rate. The show is right, thought-provoking, and demonstrates how personal growth is only possible with some measure of risk. The director, Marianne Elliott, has managed to tell an unusual story in a wholly original way, something that is to be commended and enjoyed.
***/ out of ****