Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Also see Arty's review of Ludlow
Christopher Boone is a most unlikely heroa fifteen-year-old boy who appears to be on the autism spectrum (though his diagnosis is never mentioned), gifted in mathematics. The play begins in the mid-size city of Swindon, eighty-some miles west of London, with Christopher grieving over the body of his neighbor's dog Wellington, who has been murdered with a pitchfork. Christopher decides to track down the murderer, despite a "caution" filed by the local police after Christopher hits an officer who attempts to lift him off of Wellington.
His father Ed, a plumber, has his hands full raising Christopher on his own and firmly directs his son to let the matter drop. Siobhan, Christopher's teacher at the special school he attends, suggests that he turn it into the story, but Christopher cannot abide fiction, which he equates to lies. He can only write what he knows is true. Drawing on his prowess as a logician and summoning unexpected courage, he pursues the case. Along the way he discovers surprising things about his father, his departed mother, and himself.
Curious Incident is one of the most successful dramatic plays of the past couple of decades, both critically and commercially. On Broadway it played nearly two years, the longest run of a non-musical play since Proof opened in 2000. It won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Play, having taken the 2013 Olivier Award in that category for its in West End production. The New York production also won awards for its director, scenic and lighting designers, all of whose work was seen by those fortunate enough to catch the national tour that played at the Orpheum just over a year ago. Much of that production's genius was its use of extensive scenic, lighting and sound elements and an ensemble of ten actors beyond those in the main roles, to simulate the workings of Christopher's mind, making visible to the audience the way in which he processes such puzzles as moral dilemmas, detective work, the chaos of a busy railroad station, and the frenzied of travel through the London underground.
In the far more intimate confines of Mixed Blood's Alan Page Auditorium, and under director Jack Reuler's inventive hand, sight and sounds are still used extensively, abetted by the use of video projections on the rear of the open stage, but not of the magnitude seen in the original work. Rather than illustrating the workings of Christopher's mind, they seem to establish his mood and the physical context of his experience. There is also an ensemble who depict the boisterous crowds Christopher must navigate, but it comprises only five actors. With the production's effects dialed down several notches and the audience physically closer to the play, this production draws viewers more fully into Christopher's world, so that, rather than merely observing his story, we viscerally experience it. Notwithstanding the greatness and genius of the larger productions, Mixed Blood's rendition delivers its own brand of genius, with a more emotional connection to our hero's journey.
Aside from a clear-eyed director who can balance the physical hardware with the tenderness of the material, and a top-notch design team (with praise for Karin Olson's lighting, Andrew Meyer's sound, Kathy Maxwell's video), The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time demands an actor who can believably portray a fifteen-year-old like Christopher, maintaining the low-effect delivery of highly emotional circumstances, revealing his challenges as both a burden and a gift. MacGregor Arney accomplishes just that in a wonderful performance, unselfconscious and authentic throughout. Arney's performance has Christopher being a bit more physically agitated, with elbows and shoulders seeming to have minds of their own, than others I have seen, but it is all of a piece that works beautifully, and establishes without a doubt that Christopher is a true hero.
As his father, Zack Myers does a beautiful job of displaying Ed's deep love for his son, along with his always-on-the-brink frustration with the challenges of coping with Christopher's behavior, and meeting his distinct needs, which includes going to the mat to allow Christopher to take the national math exam three years early. When some poor choices and impetuous acts cause Christopher to lose trust in his father, Myers portrays Ed's earnest efforts to rebuild a bond with a child who has no sense of nuance, measuring everything in absolutes of good and bad.
Regan Linton is warmly wonderful as Siobhan, a teacher who ought to be on the short list for Teacher of the Year, able to draw Christopher out of his inner world, to build his confidence in himself, and most importantly, totally accept him as he is. In scenes in which she does not take part, Linton sits on the side, watching her student take charge of his life, and beaming with teacherly pride. Miriam Laube plays Christopher's mother. Seen in flashback early on, I found her overly flourished, trying too hard to find joy in a disappointing life. As we see more of her, she wins us over with the painful restraint she must show in withholding physical affection for her son, and in rising to the occasion when he needs protection.
The rest of the cast members, who form the ensemble in crowd scenes, also take on small roles, all performing their parts well. The precision movement required to enable those crowd scenes to be seen from Christopher's mind's eye is no small matter, the contribution of movement director Brian Bose. The cast maintain convincing English accents throughout, with support from accent coach Cheryl Willis.
Having experienced The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as a book, as a National Theater live broadcast, as a Broadway hit, via the excellent touring company, and now as an intimate drama in the abundantly talented hands of the cast and creative team at Mixed Blood, it has not diminished, only gains more in its power to display a triumph of spirit with heart, humor, and a generous serving of mystery, too, as we, along with Christopher, find out who killed Wellington.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Mixed Blood Theatre through December 3, 2017, 1501 S. Fourth Street, Minneapolis MN. Radical Hospitality tickets are free at the door two hours prior to performances. Tickets purchased in advance are $25. Access Passes guarantee complimentary seating and transportation for seniors and persons with disabilities and their companions. For advance tickets and Access Pass information call 612-338-6331 or go to www.mixedblood.com.
Playwright: Simon Stephens, based on the novel by Mark Haddon; Directed by: Jack Reuler; Movement Director: Brian Bose; Set Design: Joseph Stanley; Costume Design: Sara Ryung Clement; Lighting Design: Karin Olson; Sound Design: Andrew Mayer; Video Design: Kathy Maxwell; Props Design: Abbee Warmboe; Composer: Eric Mayson; Accent Coach: Cheryl Willis; Stage Manager: Chris Code.
Cast: MacGregor Arney (Christopher), Miriam Laube (Judy), Regan Linton (Siobhan), Tinia Moulder (Ensemble), Zack Myers (Ed), Raúl Ramos (Ensemble), Tom Reed (Ensemble), Lipica Shah (Ensemble), Bruce Young (Ensemble).