A play on the receiving end of five Tony Awards often catches the attention of the theatre community. But when that play is well-produced, superbly-acted, and gives its audience the opportunity to perhaps learn something new about the world through someone else’s eyes, it becomes something more: a truly great work everyone, not just the theatre-adjacent, should experience. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at SVSU is one such production.
Based on the novel of the same name, Curious Incident introduces us to Christopher Boone, a brilliant young man who most likely has Aspergers. The incident in question involves-- you guessed it-- a dog in Christopher’s neighborhood, whose mysterious fate leads Christopher into a journey that will challenge and stretch his rigid perceptions of his life and the people in it.
While the novel is written from Christopher’s perspective, the play deviates from the familiar “narrating character addressing the audience” trope by giving part of the narration to Christopher’s beloved teacher, Siobhan, as she reads his written description of the events and, ultimately, decides that it should be a play. It’s a beautiful but fast-paced script that zips along, bouncing back and forth from narration to action, as if mirroring its protagonist’s exceedingly nimble mind.
The actors have a lot to do here to keep up with that pace-- changing costumes, moving set pieces, even moving each other!-- and director Tommy Wedge’s ensemble delivers. While I felt a few of the more poignant moments may have benefitted from some minutely longer pauses to let the audience feel their weight, this cast as a whole brings precise energy, fantastic teamwork, and distinct characterizations to every scene.
At the heart of each interaction is Christopher, finding his way in a loud, difficult, often upsetting world. Portraying a character who experiences life in a fundamentally different way is a challenge for any actor, but Jared Kaufman brings Christopher to life with stunning authenticity. His believability as Christopher drives most of the emotional beats of the show, allowing the audience to relate strongly to a character who in fact seems emotionally closed-off.
The design elements of this show brilliantly assist in helping us understand Christopher’s inner life. Chief amongst those elements are projection and sound design, by Andy Harrington and Joshua Lloyd, respectively. The precise execution of sound and projection-- not to mention the dedication behind creating all those many cues!-- is crucial to this production, and this design team, along with lighting designer Peggy Mead-Finizio, succeeds in their endeavor. (A few slow spot cues and some actors in darkness near the beginning of the show may certainly be the result of opening-night jitters, as any technical issues seemed to fade by the second act.)
Scenic designer Jerry Dennis’ deceptively minimalist raked stage, which employs color-changing light strips between plain squares to delineate the boundaries of rooms and lead Christopher on his journey, facilitates those aforementioned quick transitions, and a number of portable boxes are used creatively as everything from chairs to doors to suitcases.
Props designer Devin Burke, who has some very specific lists of items to handle with this script, should be commended for his attention to detail in helping to bring Christopher’s world to life. Likewise, Jennifer Lothian’s costuming and Natasha Nash’s make-up and hair design help us to simply and effectively differentiate between the perpetually changing members of the ensemble.
In short: if you have a free evening this week, please make it out to SVSU for this technically complex and emotionally captivating production. The importance of Christopher’s story-- and the fantastic execution of this production in particular-- cannot be overstated.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” runs at SVSU in the Malcolm Field Theatre February 21st-23rd at 7:30pm, and February 24th at 3:00pm. The February 24th matinee will be a sensory friendly performance featuring muted sound and lighting, free movement access, and an open activity area during the show. Tickets are available at the box office or online at https://www.svsu.edu/theatre/.