Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

I’ll cut to the chase: the Speakeasy production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is excellent, worth your time, your money, your attention.

The book the play is based on tells the story through the narrator Christopher Boone, a 15 year-old boy on the Autism spectrum. He’s verbal and good at math, but he’s not good at metaphors or reading emotions, and he doesn’t like being touched. When his neighbor’s dog is killed, he decides he will investigate.

I won’t give anything away, but the story is alternately funny and moving. There is a lot about parental love and the struggle against limitations and finding your voice. All the drama of the book is intact, plus the play cleverly incorporates the book itself (Christopher’s journal), and even the play about the book (performed at his school, but also in front of us) into the performance. This may sound confusing or coy, but in fact these conceits help remind us that what we are seeing is the story Christopher tells himself.

Eliott Purcell as Christopher is magnetic in a physically demanding role. It can’t be easy to perform as a character who doesn’t show emotion, but Purcell immediately establishes some physical tics that help us get into Christopher’s head.

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Craig Mathers and Eliott Purcell

Another standout is Craig Mathers as Christopher’s dad Ed. In the past few years, I’ve been seeing more theater in the Boston area and I saw Mathers as an understanding (and clever) cuckold in Sara Ruhl’s Stage Kiss at the Lyric; he was funny in that but is a completely different person here. Ed Boone is a great, complex character — sympathetic and warm but also capable of making some very bad decisions and Mathers earns our support and understanding for Ed.

Speakeasy’s set is like a fashion runway, a rectangle jutting out into a space surrounded by the audience on three sides. Extremely spare, the company crowds around Christopher when he’s on a subway train, or holds up lighted balls as he contemplates the universe, or even become furniture, doors, or an ATM machine for him to interact with. The production can seem like a fluid dance, choreographed by Yo-El Cassell. Other inventive props are made of Legos. Also worth noting is the excellent sound design and coordination. Some of it is purposefully oppressive and all of it lands with perfect timing, allowing the audience to maintain the illusion established by the minimal set.

Finally, I want to note that our party included our two young teens and two of their friends. Our kids had read the book, their guests had not, but all of them thoroughly enjoyed the show, and it gave us all a lot to talk about afterwards. This is a good show for younger people (as long as they don’t mind some profanity and a stuffed “dead” dog).

As an encore, the cast performs Christopher’s proof of a math problem. A surprisingly rousing way to leave the audience with a smile on their faces.

At the Calderwood Pavilion until November 25, 2017

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