Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Using dialogue from Haddon's novel and sticking to its plot fairly closely, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time focuses on 15-year-old Christopher Boone and begins as he sets about trying to solve the murder of his neighbor's dog. Christopher, who always tells the truth, soon discovers from his investigation several secrets and lies that involve his family and that make him question his life and the people he thought he knew.
The play incorporates a combination of straight-forward, clean and concise dialogue and well-defined characters to give the audience an up-close, personal view into what goes on inside Christopher's mind. While Haddon never specifically stated in his book what developmental disorder Christopher has, the symptoms as depicted in the play are similar to autism. The book and Stephens's stage adaptation afford a better understanding of how someone like Christopher struggles with human emotions while having to navigate through changing family dynamics and a world in which most people don't have much sympathy for someone who is different.
The intimate setting of the Hormel Theatre stage at Phoenix Theatre provides an immediate connection between the audience and the actors, and Karla Koskinen's direction derives realistic and emotionally raw performances from the incredibly talented cast.
Greg Nussen is a revelation as Christopher. It's clear from his performance, which is infused with logic but also excitable outbursts and physical ticks and lacking in almost any emotion, that Christopher is highly intelligent but also completely uncomfortable with any human physical connection. Nussen's performance is childlike at times, which adds to the realistic portrayal of Christopher's young age, yet he shows his ability to quickly recite lists of numbers and mathematical equations, illustrating just how smart this young man is. It's a beautiful, moving and utterly convincing performance.
With well-nuanced portrayals, Michael Kary and Kelly Pekar are perfect as Christopher's complicated but truly caring parents. The scenes they share with Nussen, which include moments that show they are desperately hoping for a clear sense of bonding and human connection with their son, are heartbreaking, as Christopher can't bear anything more than to have their fingertips touch. With a calm and soothing nature, Elizabeth Brownlee Blair is full of kindness and humanity as Christopher's schoolteacher, and Cathy Dresbach plays other small parts, showing compassion as one of Christopher's neighbors.
The creative aspects are superb, with the use of stylized and imaginative choreography by Jordan Daniels and the combination of Douglas Clarke's sleek set design with the vibrant lighting by Kristen Peterson and imaginative video design by Stephanie Busing providing clear and distinct imagery to help us visualize Christopher's thought processes. This explosion of visual aspects, along with Daniel Peterson's sound design and Christopher Colucci's musical score, immerse the audience in non-stop visual and aural elements that take them inside Christopher's mind. The creative elements work very well to depict how someone with a developmental disorder is bombarded with sights and sounds in daily events that most people take for granted, such as walking through a train station and boarding the London Underground.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a thought-provoking work full of insight, and Phoenix Theatre Company's production has a very gifted cast, accomplished direction, and superb creative designs that make for an immersive, engaging, and emotionally rewarding experience.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs through November 10, 2019 at The Phoenix Theatre Company, at 1825 N Central Avenue, Phoenix AZ. Tickets can be purchased at phoenixtheatre.com or by calling 602-254-2151
Written by Simon Stephens
Director: Karla Koskinen
*Members of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors & stage managers in the U.S.