If you are lucky enough to get a ticket to Raleigh Little Theatre’s production of Simon Stephens’ 2015 Tony Award-winning play, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, you will be treated to some true theater magic. Director Patrick Torres creates an engaging visual spectacle merged with powerful performances that deliver an unexpectedly sensory dramatic experience.
Based on the 2003 novel of the same title by Mark Haddon, the story centers on 15-year-old Christopher Boone’s quest to solve the mystery of who killed Wellington, his neighbor’s dog. Highly intelligent, especially when it comes to logic and math, he is keenly observant but wary of strangers and physical contact. Although Haddon does not present a diagnosis for Christopher in the novel, it is widely understood that this character is on the autism spectrum.
This is not only the first local production of this play but one of the few productions in the country that has cast a person on the autism spectrum in the title role. In 2017, Mickey Rowe was the first actor with autism to play this role, portraying Christopher in the Indiana Repertory Theater and Syracuse Stage productions. Michael Larson, a high school junior who is also autistic, plays the title role in the Raleigh Little Theatre production. Larson’s authenticity distinguishes Christopher as an individual, not a stereotype or caricature played for sympathy.
Christopher’s teacher, Siobhan, played with a refreshingly optimistic tone by Samantha Corey, assumes the role of the narrator in this play as Christopher embarks on his investigation into who killed Wellington. That investigation ultimately challenges and changes not only him but the lives of his parents and teacher.
As Christopher’s father, Ed, Simon Kaplan capably conveys the frustrations of a man who deeply loves his son but grapples with connecting emotionally to him. Rebecca Blum shines in her nuanced and humane portrait of Christopher’s mother. Both actors dig deep into the emotional vulnerability of their characters, spotlighting the complexities of these relationships in a way that feels closer to Haddon’s novel than the West End, Broadway, or national touring productions.
The other six members of the cast function as the Voices, a Greek chorus of sorts, that efficiently rotate through a variety of characters that populate Christopher’s world.
Scenic Designer Sonya Drum has constructed a back wall that effectively mirrors the compartmentalization of Christopher’s mind. Projections designed by Darby Madewell, along with the movement of boxes and blocks, suggest various locales from Christopher’s school and neighborhood to the London Underground. Accenting the atmosphere is original music composed by Areon Mobasher. More importantly, Heather J. Strickland has choreographed precise movements to physically animate both Christopher’s anxieties and imagination.
From the casting to Torres’ imaginative direction and staging, all the pieces fall into place to illuminate the story from Christopher’s unique perspective. Ultimately, it is an unconventional, heart-wrenching, tale of family relationships that have gone awry and the difficulty in finding a path towards forgiveness and hope.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs through February 8th at Raleigh Little Theatre. There will be a sensory-friendly performance on February 9th. For more information, visit https://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time/ or the RDU on Stage Calendar Page.
Click here to listen to what Raleigh Little Theatre’s Executive Director Charles Phaneuf and Education Director Meredyth Pederson Cooper have to say about the production, inclusion, and sensory-friendly performances on the RDU on Stage podcast.