The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was one of those books, the one that everybody was reading way back in 2005. You can picture its red jacket on your nightstand or a friend’s bookshelf, right? In the decade-plus since, Mark Haddon’s novel was developed as a play that became a sleeper Broadway hit known for both its humanity and technical wizardry.
But first, in case your 2005 book club skipped this one to watch Carrie Underwood win American Idol, the plot.
We begin with a murdered dog. Fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone (Harrison Bryan) vows to solve the case and embarks on an investigation that will lead him far, far out of his very small comfort zone. Although it’s never explicitly said, Christopher has autism. He remembers everything, is a math and computer wizard but processes the world literally too literally and is flummoxed by contradictions in human behavior. His quest to unravel the mystery unearths some hard truths about his mother and father and what starts as a quirky detective procedural becomes a larger story about trust, relationships and takes us on a journey into Christopher’s wondrous mind.
New York-based actor Harrison Bryan makes his PTC debut and offers a powerful performance as the play’s central figure. It’s a tough role that would be easy to drop into maudlin stereotype and Bryan walks the right side of the line creating a beautiful character of incredible depth. It must be an exhausting part to play. Christopher is on stage the entire performance and it is a physical, emotionally draining role. Bryan’s performance alone is worth price of admission.
He’s not alone up there though, a face-changing ensemble backs him up ably. Standing out is Tom O’Keefe in the equally difficult role of Christopher’s father. Stephanie Howell (who blew us away with her performance in Utah Rep’s The Other Place last year) is also working the net for Bryan, although with uneven results. There’s too little range in her conflicts with Christopher (of which there are many) and her accent, the play is set in Great Britain, flickers in and out. Melissa Miller portrays Siobhan, Christopher’s teacher who narrates large chunks of the play with kindness and warmth.
What made the Broadway production such a hit was the extra layer of stagecraft that is missing in the PTC production. On Broadway, the play uses projection mapping to create Christopher’s world. PTC’s set designer Daniel Meeker has built a clever traditional set that morphs and moves in novel ways to create a blank canvas for this play of the mind but the razzle dazzle was sorely missed during Christopher’s harrowing journey by train. One specific moment, for example, a near miss with a train, which is one of the most nail-biting scenes in the script, falls flat in the PTC performance.
All is forgiven, however, both in ticket prices (projection mapping is an expensive toy, after all) and in the excellent performances Director Karen Azenberg pulls out of her cast. Her clever choreography and blocking, along with Meeker’s set, ultimately do get the job done. What counts most in Curious Incident is its humanity. The play addresses family and differently abled humans in a powerful way. With this cast, you could pull it off with a ladder and a bench on a blank stage and it’s an excellent beginning to PTC’s new season.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time runs through Sept. 30, 2017. Tickets and information here.