Tuesday, August 8, 2017

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME UNCOVERS THE MYSTERIES OF THE MIND AND HEART

Adam Langdon and the Ensemble of THE CURIOUS
INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME. All photos by Joan Marcus.


The Tony Award-winning play THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME has landed at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles in all it's digitized, breathtaking splendor and it's quite an illuminating trip. Director Marianne Elliot, award-winning director of WAR HORSE, and the original London and Broadway productions, propels the audience into the mind of Christopher, an autistic teenager (Adam Langdon) who is definitely on the autism spectrum, although his diagnosis is never directly identified in the play. It was based on the book by Mark Haddon and was adapted for the stage by Simon Stephens.

In the opening scene we are greeted with the moonlit figure of a large dog impaled with a pitchfork and a shaken Christopher standing over the animal, overcome with emotion. It is soon revealed that someone killed Wellington the dog who belongs to a neighbor and by virtue of proximity Christopher is the prime suspect. But as the arriving police officer discovers, things are not always what they seem; an attempt to handle Christopher results in a terrifying outburst of pain and fear that he experiences by being touched by another person. 


We get to see the narrow emotional world that Christopher inhabits, one that he has adjusted to and thrived within. He is a mathematical savant, an admirer of Sherlock Holmes who uses his prodigious mental gifts to solve the mysteries of life in a most precise and often endearing manner. But it is his emotional gifts that need tending.

Christopher is enrolled at a special needs school where his counselor Siobhan (Maria Elena Ramirez) encourages him to channel his energy and creativity into writing a journal of his efforts to solve the murder of the dog Wellington. Christopher is being raised by his hardworking handyman father Ed (Gene Gillette) with enormous patience and protectiveness. 

Adam Langdon and Maria Elena
Ramirez in THE CURIOUS INCIDENT
OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME.
Ed fights for his son to have as normal a life as possible, battling with school administrators who want to deny Christopher an opportunity to sit for his A Level maths exams (the UK equivalent of advanced AP courses/PSAT exams) at the age of only 15 years. With a visible mixture of guilt and melancholy, Ed does the best he can for the son who he cannot hold.
Gene Gillette and Adam Langdon in
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG
IN THE NIGHTTIME.
As with most young geniuses, Christopher is single-minded in his belief that his superior logic skills will help him uncover Wellington's murderer, despite his father's warnings to leave things alone and not go poking his nose into other people's business. But do kids ever listen? No. That's lucky for the audience who follow down the rabbit hole of Christopher's racing mind.

The show hurtles along at breakneck speed, beautifully creating the sights and sounds of London as perceived by Christopher - flashing lights, ambient sounds, a parkour-like movement scheme that had the audience cheering (wonderfully choreographed by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett), executed by a hardworking ensemble who play multiple roles throughout the play.


Adam Langdon as Christopher in THE
CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME.
Along the way to solving Wellington's murder, Christopher makes a startling personal discovery that leads him to run away from home and venture alone on the London Underground to seek out his missing mother whom he thought dead. His bravery is tested by difficult, unknown circumstances; things that would be commonplace to most of us, like finding a railway station, buying a ticket and learning how to jump onto a train and read a subway map are daunting. But he is truly on a quest and, like most questers, his determination will carry the day.

The Ensemble in THE CURIOUS INCIDENT
OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME. 
Fully bringing the world view of autism to life is not easy, but this talented, versatile cast handles it masterfully. Playing a Rain Man-type character can be tricky, so it is to the credit of actor Langdon that we are not put off by his quirks and intense, gangly physicality that is a grueling nightly ordeal (another talented actor Benjamin Wheelwright performs the Saturday and Sunday matinees). Actors Gillette, Ramirez and particularly Felicity Jones Latta as Christopher's errant mother are able to create and sustain an empathetic, emotional climate throughout.

The ensemble gets a nod here: Amelia White as a compassionate neighbor; Kathy McCafferty as the school principal and Brian Robert Burns, John Hemphill, Geoffrey Wade, Francesca Choy-Kee, Robyn Kerr and J. Paul Nicholas all contribute multiple portrayals to support the action.

Amelia White and Adam Langdon in
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG
IN THE NIGHTTIME. 
Most of the technical team are from the original British production and their work adds to the emotional weight of the piece. They include Bunny Christie (Scenic & Costume Design), Paule Constable (Lighting Design), Finn Ross (Video Design), Adrian Sutton (Music), and Ian Dickinson (Sound Design).

The production has some slight problems mostly due to the flashy visuals and thundering sound (off-putting to many elderly patrons), and quite honestly the Ahmanson seems a bit too large of a house for this tale. Maybe the venerable Mark Taper Forum would have been a better fit? 

I found the themes that underlie the play to have great resonance - perhaps many in the audience felt the same. The desperate need to make sense of a universe that often seems unknowable and a society that at times is insane, is something we all share in the current state of the world. To the authors of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME, it seems logic - and love - might just be the answer to our eternal quest for the meaning of life on Earth.

Adam Langdon stars as Christopher in THE CURIOUS INCIDENT
OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME. 
Note: Be sure to stay for the post-curtain call scene with Christopher which brought the opening night audience to its collective feet.

The production runs through September 10th at the Ahmanson and tickets can be purchased through the Center Theatre Group box office or online.

-- Lisa Lyons