New York City Theater
"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time"
Ethel Barrymore Theater
Get out the melatonin. Chances are, you may not be able to sleep after seeing “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,” the astounding sense-awakening experience at the Barrymore. An award-winning smash hit in London, this play by Simon Stephens, adapting Mark Haddon’s famous novel, should repeat its success on Broadway.
The audience on the night attended was silent, except when it exploded with cheers at the end. Obviously, they were mesmerized as well as thrilled and moved by the working-out of this tale of Christopher, a 15-year-old math genius who, falling somewhere on the autistic syndrome, has to learn to trust not only himself but others. Strangers, even if they’re neighbors, are anathema; just being touched is a shock that causes him to scream uncontrollably.
The boy, who cannot lie, is so literal that when asked “to be quiet for a while,” he demands to know exactly how long that will be. Disliking metaphors, he can yet wonder at the vastness of the universe, going from “I don’t like acting because it is pretending that something is real when it is not really real at all” to looking at billions of stars and exclaiming that they make you “seem very small, and if you have difficult things in your life it is nice to think that . . . you don’t have to take them into account when you are calculating something.”
Christopher’s difficulties begin, but don’t end, with his discovery that a neighbor’s dog has been fatally impaled with a pitchfork. Act One is devoted to his finding out who did it. In Act Two, he has to deal with the frightening real world, come to terms with his parents’ messy lives, emerge from his cocoon and face life’s ambiguities.
Though the use of a narrator is an awkward shortcut, the production is as astonishing as any you’re likely to see. Surrounded by a huge grid on which projections trace such as subway trains and mathematical formulas, it’s like being caught in an erector set or, better, inside a computer-driven brain.
Director Marianne Elliott (of “War Horse” fame) and her design team brilliantly weave revelations about Christopher’s thoughts and experiences into a magical landscape of images, sometimes vast, sometimes piercing. Finn Ross’ video design, dovetailing with Bunny Christie’s scenic and costume design, Paule Constable’s lighting, Adrian Sutton’s music, Ian Dickinson’s sound and Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett’s choreography penetrate a spectator’s inner being.
Although the versatile cast delineates its multiple characters with cross-current precision (Ian Barford stands out as Christopher’s ambivalent father), it’s Alex Sharp as Christopher who, in his Broadway debut (he’s fresh out of Juilliard), blows the mind, giving an award-caliber performance of assuredness, excitement and self-exposure. Playing this physically charged, mentally anguished character, Sharp imbues Christopher’s “otherness” with a defiant salute to and celebration of those differences.
Haunting and unforgettable, “The Curious Incident” is a whopper.
--David A. Rosenberg
Oct. 11, 2014