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Theater Review: “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”

Gene Gillette as Ed and Adam Langdon as Christopher Boone in the touring production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Joan Marcus
Photo credit:
Joan Marcus

Onstage at the top of the show is a large white dog, quite dead, with a garden fork stuck in him.

This our introduction to the mind-blowingly strange and utterly fascinating “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” playing through Sept. 24 at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. 

Based on the Mark Haddon novel, Simon Stephens’ smash hit from London’s National Theatre won seven Oliviers before it transferred to Broadway, where it took five Tonys. Now it’s touring the country.

The minimalist plot revolves around the obvious question: whodunit? The investigator is 15-year-old Christopher (Adam Langdon), a boy with unusual mathematical talents and special needs (he’s on the autism spectrum), who lives in suburban Swindon and attends a special school. It’s Chris who finds Wellington and decides to find out who killed him.

Chris’ dad Ed (Gene Gillette) means well, but is always telling the boy to stop doing something or to refrain from doing something, and for heaven’s sake to stay out of trouble, which he finds difficult. Though his mom Judy (Felicity Jones Latta) understands Chris a little better, she has been out of his life for a few years.

But whether or not Chris finds the dog’s killer doesn’t really matter here. It’s the visual and visceral depiction of his world that will gobsmack you. Just as Chris is “not like all the others,” this story’s presentation is the most original I’ve ever seen onstage.

Chris shows the usual signs of someone on the spectrum: he’s hypersensitive, has focus problems, goes into a frenzy when touched, is unable to lie and is generally found alone. The logical world of mathematics makes sense to him; the messy doings of flawed humans do not. “I find people confusing,” he says.

But he finds a friend in his pet rat Toby.

Chris has extraordinary math capabilities. In fact, he sees and hears (and mostly understands) in numbers. His teacher Siobhan (Maria Elena Ramirez) tells him, “Count the rhythm in your head like when you’re doing music.” And in a pinch, he can always count in prime numbers.

The show has a spectacular design team. Set designer Bunny Christie illustrates Chris’ world as a huge three-sided black grid divided into squares by white lines. LED and CGI effects, words spilling down the grid, lighting by Paule Constable and Finn Ross’ video designs are eye-popping, and Ian Dickinson’s sound is a perfect fit. Adrian Sutton’s techno score lends itself to the precise (and most unusual) choreography by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett.

When finally his father disappoints him too much, Chris decides to take the train – alone – from Swindon to London to see his mother. That adventure provides another kind of visual feast and sets up the satisfying ending.

Langdon’s Chris is nothing short of a wonder. Onstage most of the time, his character like a coiled spring, he makes us feel Chris’ acute discomfort at just being in this alien-seeming world.

The supporting cast is excellent as well, playing multiple parts – and even a dancing corps at times. 

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is an altogether singular experience. Don’t miss it.

The details

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” plays through September 17, 2017 at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa.

Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 pm; Saturday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm

Tickets: (714) 556-2121 or www.scfta.org