Regional Reviews: St. Louis
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Simon Stephens' play about a 15-year-old who seems to be on the Autism spectrum does a great job balancing the problems of the disorder, set against the humanity of all concerned, in this regional debut directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge.
Of course, not every person in the broad range of autism happens to be a math whiz, or an aspiring, eccentric young Sherlock Holmes-type detective, looking forward to a great uplifting ending. But setting aside those charming flourishes, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (based on the novel by Mark Haddon) opens up so much keening compassion and heartbreak within us that we achieve an incomparable sense of spiritual realignment. In many instances, as you follow Christopher Boone (the excellent Nick LaMedica), it's more Christian than church itself: putting you in a desperate man's shoes.
It's also a very modern update of what George Bernard Shaw did time and again, 100 years ago: giving us a "sugared pill" of hard reality, wrapped-up as an unexpectedly clever entertainment. And here, we gladly take the medicine. Director Dodge also choreographs (with Michael Baxter), and those parts of the show are especially exciting as we follow Christopher (Nick LaMedica) on a grueling escape to London, for what must inevitably be a heartbreaking reunion. Bursts of light overhead, designed by Matthew Richards, and more gentle, other-worldly effects help put us inside the mind of our very unlikely hero.
Narelle Sissons designed the large classroom-type set for this production at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. There are high walls, covered in what might as well be magical incantations, suggesting the inside of Christopher's mind, filled with numbers and figures. Math, of course, is both his language of escape and the only kind of structure that can reunite him with an often unbearable world. Kathleen Wise plays his prim but insightful schoolteacher, and a lively chorus of actors fill in as classmates and passing grown-ups he meets along the way.
Though Christopher insists, early on, that he hates metaphors, in a remote way (as remote as he and the world seem from one another) it all centers on just thatsomething representing something else: the chalk outline of a neighbor's dead dog (in life) both lovable and vicious. Over the ensuing two hours and twenty minutes, we'll find that Christopher's own life can be just as extreme, and difficult to bear.
Aside from all the sensory distortions, the other stunning thing about this production is Amy Blackman's almost impossibly likable turn as the mother who's gone on to another world, away from her son and husband, in the midst of all the behavioral crises. As Judy, she's stunningly lovable, and when she tries to embrace her son again and again, we feel her anguish, as he cringes and turns away. Jimmy Kieffer, in the co-starring role as Christopher's long-suffering father, gives a fine, stoic performance tinged with pain.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs through October 1, 2017, on the main-stage of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis' Loretto-Hilton Theatre on the campus of Webster University in St. Louis MO before moving to the Cincinnati Playhouse. For more information visit www.repstl.org.
Cast (in order of appearance):