Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Spreckels Theatre Company
Review by Jeanie K. Smith | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's reviews of The Phantom of the Opera and Detroit '67 and Jeanie's reviews of A Chorus Line, Savage Wealth and Cabaret

Elijah Pinkham and Bronwen Shears
Photo by Jeff Thomas
When 15-year-old Christopher is discovered kneeling over the body of a dog killed with a gardening fork, it's easy for others to assume he had something to do with the death, especially as his responses to questioning are oddly literal and unhelpful. And he screams when anyone touches him. So begins one of the most heralded plays of recent years, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, presented by Spreckels Theatre Company in its area premiere. This is a challenging and ambitious piece, given its technological and physical demands. STC does it excellent, admirable justice, especially owing to a talented ensemble led by the remarkable Elijah Pinkham as young Christopher.

Based on the 2003 book by Mark Haddon, Stephens' play creates a play-within-a-play context, and won numerous Oliviers when it first opened in London in 2013, and more awards on Broadway in 2014. The play shifts from the first person of the book, but tries to retain the feeling of being inside the mind of a young man with who appears to have a behavioral disorder (no specific diagnosis is ever stated).

We quickly begin to pick up on aspects of Christopher's (Pinkham) behavior—he is brilliant in math, thinking and speaking literally, incapable of lying, and fearful of germs through touching or strange bathrooms. But he's also a feeling youth, apparently capable of love for his parents (David Yen and Bronwen Shears), for his pet rat, and for his teacher/mentor Siobhan (Gina Alvarado). He trusts strangers to supply him with information he needs, sometimes to his detriment; but runs away from fearful situations. He's mesmerized by the stars and galaxies, but can be paralyzed by ordinary earthly tasks.

Cleared by the police of involvement in the dog's murder, Christopher decides to conduct his own investigation, despite his father's edicts. As he doggedly pursues his quest, he uncovers surprising information about his mother's death and more. This leads to his undertaking a major adventure, traveling solo from his sheltered home to the big metropolis of London. The life situations Christopher must deal with would be upsetting to any teenager, but they're made doubly difficult because of his inability to process the most mundane transactions.

The play bogs down in a few places, suffering from repetition and slowed pacing. The many short scenes add a lot of transition time as well, and there's a long arc getting to the resolution in act two. But the message remains intact, and manages to tug at the heart. There's humor, too, not at Christopher's expense, but in sympathetic amusement at his innocent assessments of reality. There's enough food for thought to stimulate post-show discussions and perhaps a rethinking of one's own assumptions about gifts and liabilities.

In all its incarnations in major theaters and even on tour, technology has played a huge part in the overall spectacle, utilizing digital projections and lighting wizardry, presumably to keep us inside Christopher's thought processes and mimic his love of computers and math. Spreckels follows suit with this concept, and pulls out all the stops in presenting a visual feast. Set designers Elizabeth Craven (also director) and Eddy Hansen (also lighting design) collaborate with sound designer Jessica Johnson and projections designer Richard Turtletaub in creating a brilliant, dynamic scenic backdrop for the action. The music nicely suits the mood, although volume sometimes obscures the narration.

The wonderful ensemble serves many purposes, including furniture, ocean waves, neighbors, passersby, and more in an ever-changing array of circumstances. Other than the four principals, they all play multiple roles and often underscore the action with movement or sound effects. The constant walking around on the Condiotti's small stage can be distracting; scenes with fewer people allow for more clarity of action.

Kudos to Artistic Director Sheri Lee Miller, to director Craven and her team, and her impressive cast for rising to the challenge of this theatrical undertaking. Here's your chance to see a major Broadway play in a regional setting, in an intimate venue, with noteworthy performances and a truly original setting. Make it your first theatre outing of the new season.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, through September 30, 2018, by Spreckels Theatre Company at Spreckels Performing Arts Center, Condiotti Theatre, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park CA. Tickets $16.00-$26.00 can be purchased online at or by phone at 707-588-3400.

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