Regional Reviews: Boston
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Also see Sarah's review of Oleanna
The neighbor's dog has been murdered. Our protagonist, 15-year-old Christopher Boone (Eliott Purcell), finds the poor animal outside with a garden fork sticking upright out of its side, and the investigation begins. You see, the dogcalled Wellingtonwas a friend of Christopher's, who will not rest until justice has been served. Christopher is smart (especially when it comes to math, or "maths," as they say in Britain, where the play is set), acutely observant, and tenacious. He also appears to be autistic, and he experiences more than the usual set of challenges one might during a murder investigation: he hates being touched, he has trouble following when people speak in metaphor or euphemism, and he easily succumbs to sensory overload. Despite all of this, Christopher bravely persists, but his investigation into Wellington's death turns up other darkness among his two-legged family members.
This play could easily be mishandled. Christopher's journal entries, most often read aloud by his teacher Siobhan (Jackie Davis), provide a sort of inner monologue, keying us into his thoughts and reactions to the events around him. The scenes quickly shift in both time and space: flashbacks, memories, acted out versions of Christopher's thought processes, sometimes in Christopher's home and neighborhood, now on the beach, now his school, now the London tube. What could easily be jumbled and chaotic is made seamless, even elegant, through the work of the ensemble cast members (Tim Hackney, Cheryl McMahon, Christine Power, Alejandro Simoes, Damon Singletary, Gigi Watson), who constantly switch costumes and characters based on what each new scene or moment needs, and under the guidance of movement director Yo-El Cassell. Nearly every surface of the performance space, deployed on a thrust stage, is black and able to be written on (Christopher jots notes in white marker throughout). The result is an imaginative, immersive production; you feel as if you're experiencing the events of the play primarily from inside Christopher's head. Many of the ensemble sequences, particularly those when Christopher gazes up at the night sky or talks of his dream to be an astronaut, are grippingly beautiful.
Eliott Purcell shines as Christopher; though his skillful physicality and refined mannerisms help portray Christopher's challenges, Purcell also infuses levity into his performance, never losing sight of Christopher's spunky, youthful side. Boasting a slew of area credits (Huntington Theatre, Stoneham Theatre, Commonwealth Shakespeare, among others), Purcell previously appeared in SpeakEasy's Appropriate and Hand to God. Laura Latreille and Craig Mathers complete the Boone family as parents Judy and Ed. Mathers strikes the right balance in Ed between loving his son and battling his own demons. Latreille, an assistant professor in Suffolk University's Theatre Department, appeared in SpeakEasy's Fat Pig and The Shape of Things, winning the Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Actress for the latter, and has performed with New Repertory Theatre, Stoneham Theatre, and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, among others. Mathers (a performing arts professor at Emerson College) performed in SpeakEasy's The Light in the Piazza along with a long list of credits in New England and elsewhere (Lyric, Huntington, Actors' Shakespeare Project, to name a few). What's brilliant is that, despite the family trauma and tension, every Boone has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, faults and redemptions, and I empathized with all of them, thanks to Purcell, Latreille, and Mathers.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs through November 25, 2017, in the Roberts Studio Theatre at the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston's South End. There will be a sensory-friendly performance on Sunday, November 19 at 3:00 PM. Tickets start at $25 with discounts for students, seniors, and those age 25 and under. For tickets and more information, call the box office at 617-933-8600 or visit speakeasystage.com.