The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

I didn't know anything about this extraordinary new play when I went in. Well, that's not entirely true. I knew the lead character was a teenage boy who is autistic. Other than that, I didn't know anything, and I kept laughing at its long and somewhat unwieldy title. My skepticism was silenced as soon as the show began. Brought over from a hit, Olivier–winning run in London, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a great story about discovering yourself, and it's brought to life in a marvelous production.

The play opens with our protagonist, Christopher (Alexander Sharp), standing over a dead dog, the victim of a gruesome killing. Christopher vows to find out who killed the dog, and while pursuing that line of detection, as he would call it, he finds out that he's capable of great things—that the world is, in fact, open to him.

Making an impressive Broadway debut, Sharp gives an astonishing performance. Sharp imbues Christopher with curiosity, tenacity and intelligence, allowing us to see potential in Christopher. At the same time, Sharp is sensitive enough to make Christopher's autistic tics—physical, psychological or otherwise—natural and even understated, rather than a caricature. (While watching his layered performance, I was reminded of the revelation that came with discovering Nina Arianda, who burst onto the scene in Venus in Fur, her first job out of school. This gig marks Sharp's first role since graduating from Juilliard this spring. Keep an eye on him.)

Based on Mark Haddon's eponymous novel (which I had never heard of before this play), the play is adapted by Simon Stephens and directed by Marianne Elliott (War Horse). Stephens frames the work such that the first act is essentially us reading Christopher's book and the second is us watching his play. The frame allows for narration (much of which is delivered by Francesca Faridany, who plays Christopher's teacher, Siobhan), which helps fill in details and keep the play moving.

The narration also means we experience everything from Christopher's point of view, and the inventive staging (movement direction by Steven Hoggett (American Idiot, Rocky) and Scott Graham) and scenic (Bunny Christie), lighting (Paule Contsable), sound (Ian Dickinson (sound) and Adrian Sutton (music)) and projection (Finn Ross) designs enhance that feeling. Creating an almost immersive experience, the deceptively simple set appears to be not much more than a three-wall grid, with doors and cubbies scattered throughout. Lights shock; sounds frighten; walls close in, then open up.

We are completely immersed in Christopher's mind, and for all the perceived setbacks he faces; for all the times he's underestimated; for all the things that make him different, we understand, as he comes to throughout his journey, that challenges are not dead ends. Being unique is an asset, unlocking untold potential and leading to a life of our own creation.

(I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the ensemble cast works well together, and stand out featured players include Ian Barford and Enid Graham, who play Christopher's parents.)

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  1. It's an extremely original and well told story with both humor and angst, and you can make it a light read or get deeper, as you wish.

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