Inquisitive autistic British teenager Christopher Boone, an introverted lover of math, rodents and the Rubik’s cube, overcomes adversity with empowering fortitude in Simon Stephens’ compelling 2012 drama The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, currently receiving a terrific regional collegiate premiere at Wright State University in the Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center.
Based on the 2003 novel by Mark Haddons and directed with deft sharpness by Marya Spring Cordes, Curious Incident places the audience directly into the brilliantly busy and detailed mind of Christopher (an exceptional Colin Hodgkin), who is determined to figure out who killed his neighbor’s dog, Wellington. He faithfully records his findings in a special book, which serves as the narrative focus for the show’s play-within-a-play framework often recounted by his supportive teacher Siobhan (Kaitlyn Campbell, warm and pleasant). But in a savvy twist, his fascinating detective pursuit becomes so much more than a search for truth about Wellington. There are hurtful secrets and lies to unravel within his own family requiring him to shed his innocence and take matters into his own hands, leading him beyond his comfort zone for the first time in his life in spite of the fact he’s fearful of touch and distrusts strangers due to his condition.
Stephens’ script is wordy, quick, complex, and sophisticated, which isn’t unusual for contemporary British dramas.
Nonetheless, Christopher’s seemingly impossible journey remains engaging and often riveting, which is a testament to Cordes’ ability to illuminate the play’s emotional intricacies while simultaneously grasping its multi-layered scope/structure. Her excellent cast, which has received superb dialect coaching from Deborah Thomas, brings depth and nuance to their roles as well as a clear understanding of the world they inhabit, often moving around the stage with mechanical precision. The aforementioned Hodgkin, who never leaves the stage in a tour de force of psychology, physicality, specificity, and stamina, offers a powerful, educational look at the sensitive nature of autism, especially from an emotional and behavioral standpoint. His enthusiastic curtain call delivery of Christopher’s mind-blowing problem solving is also impressive. Justin Mathews is heartbreaking as Christopher’s conflicted, disgruntled, angry, and abusive father Ed, whose overprotective influence backfires as his son grows more curious and courageous. Katie Sinicki, luminous as sassy Nora in Cordes’ production of Brighton Beach Memoirs at the Human Race Theatre Company last season, is dynamically effervescent and heartfelt as Christopher’s complicated mother Judy, unable to handle the pressures of marriage and parenting but willing to reconnect regardless. MacKenzie Kasbaum, Josh Beasley, Eric Thompson, Mark Antony Howard, Hailey Marshall, and Isabella Andrews supply strong variety in various roles from police officers and neighbors to train station guards and relatives.
In addition, the production’s marvelous technical team includes scenic designer David J. Castellano, costume designer Courtney Michele, lighting designer Matthew P. Benjamin, fight choreographer Bruce Cromer, composer Darryl Robbins, and sound designer James Dunlap. Benjamin, Robbins and Dunlap particularly bolster the play’s evocative atmospherics.
Winner of seven 2013 Olivier Awards including Best New Play and five 2015 Tony Awards including Best Play, Curious Incident begins WSU’s 39th season on a resounding high note.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time continues through Oct. 7 in the Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center at Wright State University, 3640 Col. Glenn Hwy., Fairborn. Performances are Oct. 3 and 4 at 7 p.m., Sept. 28, 29, Oct. 5 and 6 at 8 p.m., and Sept. 30, Oct. 6 and 7 at 2 p.m. There will be a special talkback following the Sept. 30 matinee. Act One: 75 minutes; Act Two: 70 minutes. Tickets are $25 for adults, $23 for seniors and $15 for students. For tickets or more information, call (937) 775-2500 or visit www.wright.edu/theatre-dance-and-motion-pictures/performances/ticket-information. Also, WSU is partnering with SISCA to promote animal adoption in the Dayton region. If you are interested in adopting the dog featured in the production, or any pet, please contact the SICSA Pet Adoption Center at (937) 294-6505.