By ROY BERKO
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, now on stage in the Senney Theater in the Beck Center complex, is a play by Simon Stephens which is based on British writer Mark Haddon’s book of the same name, which, in turn was based on the 1892 short story ‘The Adventure of Silver Blaze.”
The story centers on Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old autistic math prodigy. Although Christopher’s condition is not stated, per se, a blurb in the book refers to Asperger’s Syndrome, which is an outdated term for a high functioning group on the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that could be described as a physical/psychological disorder.
In July 2009, Haddon wrote on his blog that “‘The Curious Incident’ is not a book about Asperger’s…if anything it’s a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way, and that he, Haddon, is not an expert on the autism spectrum or Asperger syndrome (sic).”
Christopher lives in Swindon, England, with Ed, his “widowed” father. The boy was told that his mother, Judy, died of a heart attack two years prior to the events of the story.
One day, Christopher discovers that his neighbor Mrs. Shears’ dog, Wellington, of whom Christopher was fond, has been fatally speared with a garden fork.
As Christopher mourns over Wellington’s body, Mrs. Shears calls the police, thinking he is the murderer.
A policeman, unaware of Christopher’s condition, grabs Christopher by the arm. (Note: Many of those on the autism spectrum abhor being touched.) Christopher panics and hits the Bobby, resulting in him being arrested for assaulting a police officer.
After being released, Christopher decides to investigate the dog’s death. As is the case with those on the spectrum, he is obsessive with his task. He chronicles all the information he receives in a notebook, which eventually forms the basis for this play.
During his investigation, he meets the elderly Mrs. Alexander, who informs Christopher that his mother had an affair with Mr. Shears, a neighbor, and the two had moved away from the area.
Thus, we enter into an adventure of Christopher’s world: his obsessive search for his mother, his discovering who killed Wellington, his decision on whether or not to take his mathematics A-level and his judging whether he can ever again have a relationship with his father.
The play gained high praise in professional productions. Produced by the National Theatre, it ran for over five years in London, winning the Oliver Award. It won the 2015 Tony Award for its Broadway staging.
The Beck production, under the direction of William Roudebush is effective, but missing some of the elements that made it so compelling in its professional productions.
The cast is universally strong. Maurice Kimball IV, a nondivergent actor, adds authenticity to the role of Christopher.
The director states, “Working with this gifted Neuro-diverse actor, Maurice Kimball, has been an unfolding, surprising revelation for me, as a director. He continues, “Maurice quietly teaches me more and more each day of rehearsal. He informs the telling of this bountiful story. The rehearsal process challenges me every day and I’m as intimidated as I am excited to walk into that rehearsal tonight and learn how to tell this story of surviving life from his uniquely different, deeply human perspective.”
The rest of the large cast, some of whom play multiple roles, create believable people. Kudos to Khaki Hermann (Siobhan), Terence Cranendonk (Ed), Katherine DeBoer (Judy).
The pacing holds the attention.
On the other-hand, Joe Burke’s projection designs and the supporting sounds are interesting, but fail, as those in the London and New York productions did to truly get the viewer into Christopher’s head so we experience what it is like to be autistic.
Dialect Coach Chuck Richie has done an excellent job of teaching the cast a creditable and consistent British-English pronunciation pattern. The only issue is that the American ear is not used to the sound and there are times when the word meanings are lost.
And, the decision not to use the short scene after the curtain call, in which Christopher reappears to brilliantly solve his “favourite question” from the mathematics exam, eliminates one of the best and endearing play endings.
Capsule judgment: The Curious Incident of the dog in the Night-Time is a brilliantly written play. Neuro-divergent actor, Maurice Kimball IV is compelling in the lead role. The Beck production catches most of the script’s effectiveness, but stumbles on some technical and directing decisions. Even with those issues, this is a production well-worth seeing.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs September 23-October 16, 2022 in the Senney Theatre @ Beck Center. For tickets: Beckcenter.org or call 216-521-2540.
Roy Berko is a member of the Cleveland Critics Circle and the American Theatre Critics Association.