The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time
Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 West 47th St.
New York, NY
Written by Simon Stephens
Based on the novel by Mark Haddon
Directed by Marianne Elliott
I would be lying to say I didn’t spend half this show salivating over the lighting design, so I’ll get that out of the way by saying it first. Right, let’s move on, shall we?
I love this play. It’s an exceptionally well-written portrait of an autistic mind, with no compunctions about breaking the linear timeline to illustrate how memory and experience mesh, (or fail to mesh), to make sense of life. It invites the audience to experience not just the disability itself, (assuming autism truly deserves the term disability when compared to other conditions also garnering that label), but to understand the difficulties and pressures families containing such children face.
The production is an extension of the UK’s National Theatre Live show, adapted to a different stage for the purpose of carrying it to Broadway. This, for the most part, worked. (I saw a screening several months back in a very small theater in VT.) The lighting design carried wonderfully, a powerful engine driving Christopher’s mental journey and showcasing his brilliantly precise memory and fantastic imagination. The set, inseparably married to the lighting design because it basically WAS lighting, carried with a similar elegance in all but one capacity: Intimacy To be fair, I did have a nosebleed seat, and carrying a show from one space to another always entails a degree of difficulty. But Curious is intimate, and the design was created to support that intimacy, which, unfortunately, the typical Proscenium stage has a tendency to negate. Many of the seats were too far away to experience the little details that make this show explode.
(Example: I would not have known an actor was sneaking a cookie if I hadn’t expected it from seeing the broadcast.)
This puts a large burden on physical acting to convey emotion. When an actor’s face is smaller than a pea, I can’t see his cheek twitch, but I can see his body posture alter. If that posture doesn’t change, I’m forced to rely on vocal cues. Some of the cast could pull the distance, (Mercedes Herrero was exceptionally good. When it was her turn, I couldn’t look away from her), but others didn’t telegraph as well, which caused some of the emotional arcs to stutter. (I regret to say I found Ian Barford, Christopher’s father, to be the best example of this. He seemed caught in the energy of a perpetual, hulking hunch and sounded the same a lot of the time.)
Taking the ideas of posture and the intimacy dilemma under consideration, I believe the most important next step this new version of Curious can take is to work on sculpting and refining Christopher. Taylor Trensch, (the matinee Christopher I saw), did a decent job, but from my nosebleed vantage, he frequently had open body language and seemed to make lots of eye contact. This broke the illusion for me because in my experience people with autism tend to be physically closed, (or physically oblivious), towards others, while avoiding eye contact like the plague. Also, at times his level of relaxation felt at odds with the visual dynamic of the lighting, which is beautifully choreographed to support the emotional arcs within the text. My advice to Taylor Trensch is “Listen to the lights. Find those lights within yourself. Then become them. They exist to support you. Not save you.”
All in all, a wonderful new production has come to Broadway. I highly recommend Curious at the Barrymore Theatre to anyone looking to see a play. It’s innovative and touching, as well as loads of fun and a visual treat to watch. (Though I would recommend forking over the extra dough for a closer seat.)
This playwright is excited to see where it goes.
Review by Christine Williamson