A few weekends ago, I had the chance to see the National Theatre’s traveling production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time while in in San Francisco. Because it wasn't set to open in Seattle until July 25, I jumped at the opportunity to see it early.
I read the book shortly after it was published in 2003. It became significant for capturing the point-of-view of a young man with an undefined form of high-functioning autism. More than just a book about autism, it put readers inside the unique mind of its main character, Christopher Boone. I was eager to see if the play could capture the same empathetic experience as the book.
The answer, it turns out, is yes.
The stage adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel (written by Simon Stephens and directed by Marianne Elliott) relies heavily on its unique set to achieve this. Through a combination of flashing lights, LEDs, projections, loud noises, fog, voiceover and interpretive dance, the set design and choreography work together to replicate the frequent terror and disorientation of being locked inside a mind that is easily overwhelmed with stimuli. Too much noise, unwanted touch, trees passing outside a train window—any one of these mundane things can lead to total sensory overload. Strobes and loud static frequently assault the audience’s senses to simulate the barrage of confounded signals in Christopher’s head.
But Bunny Christine’s immersive set isn’t the only reason to check out Curious Incident. Adam Langdon shoulders the substantial burden of depicting Christopher’s autism respectfully and believably, without straying into the stereotypical or offensive. I was concerned about how this might read at the outset, but Langdon’s performance was both convincing and commanding, and worked well together with the stage design and direction to portray Christopher as a fully-developed character.
Everyone in Christopher’s life—his teacher Siobahn (Maria Elena Ramirez), his father (Gene Gilette), and his mother (Felicity Jones Latta)—struggle to do what’s best for him and each other, his disability making it challenging for them to get close both emotionally and physically. Particularly susceptible to touch, when people try to physically reassure him, it sends him into a fit that causes him to lash out. Other people in Christopher’s life orbit around him, literally and figuratively just out of arm’s reach.
Curious Incident is an intense and often uncomfortable glimpse into the mind of a young man living with a poorly-understood disorder. It is a play about how difficult it can be to connect to other people and to make sense of the world around us—even for people without any kind of disability at all.