By MIKE CHAIKEN
In many ways, “The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time” is a classic story that we would find in literature.
We have a central character, who like most of us has flaws. Events unfold that propel him on a journey. Along that journey, he learns about himself and the world around him. By the end of the story arc, he has been changed by his experiences and the reader/ audience ponders what will happen next.
What is unique about Simon Stephens’s play, which is now playing at The Bushnell in Hartford, is the central character.
First of all, Christopher Boone, played by Adam Langdon on opening night, is 15—one of those awkward teen years. Not quite old enough to drive, definitely not old enough to be an adult, but too old to be a precocious child or tween.
Secondly, Christopher—although it is never said aloud—is on the autism spectrum. He’s high functioning—he is preparing for his O-Levels (the British equivalent of the SATs) at age 15—when most students don’t take them till they are 18. He has a near photographic memory. And his perception of the world at times is highly acute—in one scene he can remember every single detail of the passing scenery while everyone else in the scene only remember bits and pieces.
Except for maybe “Rain Man,” we rarely see a character that clearly is on the autism spectrum. And often times, when we do see him, we are made to pity him.
We never pity Christopher. We may be frustrated with him at times. But we are allowed to like him and even admire him.
Langdon’s performance was spot on. He clearly understood the character he played. He had the audience believing he was on the autism spectrum. Although someone who knows autism more intimately might have had quibbles with the performance, at least for me and others with only a cursory knowledge of it, he was quite believable. He was so immersed in the character that even at curtain call, remnants of Christopher still washed over him. (Helpful hint: do not leave the theater immediately after the curtain call. There is a treat for those who linger.)
Langdon was so immersed in the role, which clearly is physically demanding as well as emotionally draining, his clothes were drenched in sweat at the end of the night.
Christopher’s idiosyncracies can be annoying or disconcerting—as they are to the characters on stage who do not know him intimately— but Langdon also is able to make the character likeable. Although Christopher clearly is on the autism spectrum, Langdon makes sure his character’s tendencies do not define him.
Like most teenagers, Christopher is trying to maneuver his way into adulthood. And he is confused by the realization that his parents are human beings, with their own flaws as well as their own strengths.
Langdon’s character is so intense that it could have lent itself to some serious scene chewing if the other actors weren’t up to the challenge to offer some balance.
Tim Wright as Christopher’s father on opening night did a superb job as a father who clearly loves his son but has his own internal regrets with which to grapple.
Felicity Jones Latta also did a fine job as a mother torn as to whether she has made the best decisions for herself or her son.
Director Marianne Elliott also should be commended for her guiding hand over the actors’ portrayals of their character. There is so much in this show that could easily have lent itself to melodrama. The characters could have drifted into caricatures. However, the show feels natural and not forced.
The production itself also is key to the shows success. The set by Bunny Christy, the video design by Finn Ross, the lighting by Paule Constable, the choreography by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, the music by Adrian Sutton, and the sound design by Ian Dickinson all mesh perfectly to help us understand and see how Christopher experiences his world.
Overall, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is intense. And it makes you uncomfortable– but in a good way. We become invested in the characters. We laugh with them. We worry about them. We become stressed when we think of some harm befalling them. That’s the sign of a well written script and a well-crafted performance.
I give “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” on Dec. 27 at The Bushnell in Hartford four out of four stars.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” continues at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford through Sunday, Jan. 1. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
For more information, go to Bushnell.org