Entertainment » Theatre

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

by Beth Dugan
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Dec 12, 2016
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The five-time Tony award winner "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" has come to Chicago's Oriental Theater. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Mark Haddon, and adapted by Simon Stephens, it is directed by Tony winner Marianne Elliot.

Set in a suburb of London, the story follows 15-year-old Christopher, who has autism. His extraordinary brain allows him great powers in mathematics, memorization and other traits, but does not allow him to communicate well with the rest of the world. Christopher loves animals and when the neighbor's dog is murdered with a garden fork, Christopher, played by Adam Langdon, who also loves Sherlock Holmes, makes it his mission to find out who killed his friend.

Though the play is very much about a child with an autism spectrum disorder, it is also about a young man coming of age and a family going through a hard time. Christopher's day is very scheduled. He goes to a special school with teacher Siobhan, played by Maria Elena Ramirez, goes home, takes care of his rat Toby, has dinner with his dad, played by Gene Gillette, and goes to bed.

The death of the neighbor's dog sets Christopher off on a case like a detective. He forces himself out of his comfort zone to ask questions of the neighbors, the police, and others involved. He writes it all down for Siobhan, who reads it aloud and encourages him to keep going.

Along Christopher's journey he uncovers some uncomfortable truths about his family. He is forced into dozens of situations he is deeply uncomfortable with, and spends most of the second act curled fetal, yelling, and freaking out. He is profoundly overloaded by what he learns and does. This is typical of autism spectrum disorder, but also true of being a teenager.

Yes, Christopher is autistic but he is also a kid chaffing at the constraints his father has placed on him, in typical 15-year old fashion. He wants more freedom. He wants to be told the truth, and not treated like a child. He wants some autonomy over his life. These are very typical teenage themes, and the beauty of what this story has done, and what the deeply talented Langdon has accomplished, is that the human element of Christopher's story is not lost.

He could be a parody of an autistic kid, an impression of Rain Man, if you will, but Langdon finds Christopher's humanity, humor, and kindness within what could have been a one-note performance.

Indeed, those around Christopher who are trying to help him best they can, like his father, his teacher, and a nice neighbor lady who just wants to give him the type of cookies he likes so he will feel comfortable talking with her, are all seeing Christopher as the extraordinary and challenging person he is, and not just a problem to be solved.

Also not to be overlooked is the magnificent set; a four-sided black and white grid that seeks to demonstrate what Christopher's mind might look and feel like. The cast uses all of it. Christopher breaks traditional gravity and walks on the walls, things that are important to him and stored in secret cabinets, and he illustrates the mathematical principles which guide him at different times. It is Tron-esque but works so well in this setting where the main character is constantly in a state of about-to-be-overwhelmed.

This truly extraordinary play was a pleasure to watch. From the set to the choreography to the extraordinary acting, this is a can't miss piece of theater in Chicago.

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" runs through December 24 at the Oriental Theater, 24 W Randolph, Chicago, IL. For information or tickets, call 312-977-1710 or visit BroadwayInChicago.com.

Beth is a freelance writer living and working in Chicago. Her work has appeared in Salon.com, TimeOut Chicago, Chicago Collection Magazine, Ducts.org, and many other places. She fears the suburbs and mayonnaise. You can read more about her work at http://www.bethdugan.com/


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