Award Winning Drama Amazes Denver Center Audience
Reviewed by Tom Jones
May 30, 2017
When the creative team was developing “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” the sign on their door must have read, “Quiet, Genius at Work.” The result is a triumph. For a couple of hours playwright Simon Stephens opens a window for the audience to glimpse what probably goes on in the mind of the young man. Christopher. He has genius math skills and is tormented with a form of autism. His social skills are trapped in a constrictive labyrinth with minimal entry possible.
Christopher, brilliantly played by Adam Langdon, is a 15-year-old boy living alone with his father in Swindon, England. His only friend is his pet rat, Toby. He was told that his mother died a couple of years ago, and he relies substantially on his teacher/mentor Siobhan for emotional support. Gene Gillette is excellent as the father, helpless to have so much contact with his son as the touch of a hand. Gillette is a Colorado native — born in Evergreen, and growing up in Frankton. Maria Elena Ramirez is equally impressive as Siobhan, the tireless teacher. Teacher and father want nothing more than to help the bewildered and bewildering young man. Felicity Jones Latta skillfully portrays the boy’s mother who has fled her marriage and family, and now lives in London.
The set looks like it could be the inside of a computer. Initially, all anyone sees is a large golden retriever-size dog lying mid-stage with the pitchfork that killed him still emerging from the corpse. When the lights come up, an illusion is created that might be the inside of Christopher’s brain – seeing much more than the dead dog. The neighbor’s dog, Wellington, didn’t mean much to Christopher, but he is intrigued with its death and begins a project to find out who killed him.
There is no end to the amazement lying in Christopher’s brain. Video projections are a maze of their own, transporting the young genius into a never-ending explosion of facts, space, and especially numbers. Christopher is a math wizard. When he thinks of becoming an astronaut, the set goes sky bound, taking him with it for a few moments of incredible celestial beauty. The visual effects were created by a British company, Frantic Assembly.
When Christopher learns that his mother has not died, but is living in London, he sets out on a journey to find her. Although he has no experience of going anywhere, he has her address, and his father’s (stolen) bank card. This journey results in one of the most harrowing visual experiences afforded to an audience. His step-by-step autistic skills are put to the test, as he must find the train station, find out how to buy a ticket, how to find and board a train, and how to maneuver the chaos of The London Underground.
Adam Langdon is nothing short of amazing, as he is center stage for the entire performance, routed in his autistic and calculated routine, but held aloft by other members of the cast, being physically passed from group to group. His athletic abilities are in full effect, and he moves with the grace of an experienced ballet artist.
There is no dancing per se in the show, but the choreography is brilliant – every gesture and move calculated to reflect the bustle of every-day life and the inner turmoil of the autistic brain. Choreography is credited to Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly.
The play is based on a novel by Mark Haddon. Playwright Simon Stephens modified the approach from the first-person narrative of the book to the stage production resulting in a play within a plan, mirroring the book Christopher is writing. The London success of the play has been record-breaking. It opened there in March of 2013. It is set to close June 3 of this year, after providing more than 1,600 performances. The play’s London run was hampered in December of 2013 when part of the Apollo Theatre’s roof collapsed, injuring nearly 80 people. The production re-opened several weeks later at the nearby Gielgud Theatre where its run has continued to this week.
The Broadway production opened in October of 2014 and ran for nearly two years. It won virtually every award possible including 7 Olivier Awards (in London), The Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, Drama League Award, and the 2015 Tony Award (all in New York). The UK National Theatre Production is on stage in Denver to June 18.
The son’s struggle for acceptance and survival is mirrored by the immense toll the mother and father face – as individuals, as a couple, and of the parents of a dear and talented son who is unable to accept the outward love offered to him. From the jolting loud noises of the first act, reflecting the extreme distress in Christopher’s mind, to his pleading with his teacher for a promise of success at the show’s end, “Curious Incident” is a marvel.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time”
Where: The Ellie (Ellie Caulkins Opera House Stage of Denver Center for the Performing Art).
When: Through June 18, 2017
Tickets: Prices start at $30 at denvercenter.org. This is the ONLY authorized ticket provider for this
production in Denver.