Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The play, originally produced in London in 2012 and on Broadway in 2014 and winning many awards in both places, does not state that Christopher has autism spectrum syndrome, and there has been some controversy in the autism community about how the play treats neurodivergence. But in his program note for this production, Mr. Torres writes that "experts in the field agree that [Christopher's] behavior and characteristics are indicative" of autism spectrum syndrome, and he intentionally cast Michael Larson as Christopher because of Michael's personal experience of autism. That adds an additional layer of experience to this production for the audience, and I imagine for the cast and staff, too.
Christopher's story begins with his investigation of the suspicious death of a neighbor's dog. At the suggestion of his teacher Siobhan (affectionately portrayed by Samantha Corey), Christopher begins a diary of his activities, allowing Siobhan to act as a narrator, reading excerpts that help to move the plot forward. Christopher's questions to his neighbors are the first indication that not everyone is sensitive to his experience in the world, and a hint of the struggles he will face to maintain his sense of control. But he is unable to move on until this mystery is solved, and he finally comes to a conclusion that nobody, including himself, could have anticipated.
Mr. Torres clearly studied director Simon Stephens' Tony-winning production, with its high-tech projections and elaborate choreography. And the entire production crew has stepped up to present this show in the small black-box theatre. Heather J. Strickland, as movement director, literally keeps things moving with homages to the original Broadway production and utilizing the limited sets and space available. Sonya Drum's scenic design reminds me of the artist M. C. Escher's famous lithography "Relativity." It is a hodgepodge of angles and shapes, objects and items that evoke a distorted reality. Fantastic video projections by Darby Madewell and lighting by Liz Droessler further enhance the surreality of the production. Puppet creations by Kerry Falkanger bring realism to moments that depict animals in compromising situations.
But what sets this show apart is the work Mr. Torres has done to allow honesty, fear, and even humor to resonate throughout. The standout by far is Michael Larson, who gives a commanding and must-see performance. Simon Kaplan and Rebecca Blum, as Ed and Judy, fully embody parents who have struggled to deal with their child's challenges and reach him on his terms. Mr. Kaplan is particularly effective in his expression of both compassion and frustration. The entire supporting ensemble of six people playing various characters throughout are stellar.
Since 2018, Raleigh Little Theatre has been offering "sensory friendly" performances for audiences with particular sensitivities, and that is how they first met Mr. Larson. With this production, Raleigh Little Theatre has made a strong step toward the inclusion of people of different abilities in their casts. When Christopher asks Siobhan after all his adventures and accomplishments, "Does this mean I can do anything?," she does not offer an answer, only a loving gaze. And while the answer is clear, for those of us who witness this production it is doubly clear: Yes, Christopher and Michael, you can.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs through February 8, 2020, at Raleigh Little Theatre, Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh NC. For tickets and information, please visit www.raleighlittletheatre.org or call 919-821-3111.
Playwright: Simon Stephens