Reviewed by Dr. Tiffany Raymond, PhD
Little Lake Theatre Company takes on literary adaptations with Simon Stephens’ play, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, based on Mark Haddon’s English novel by the same name. While no fault of the production, Stephens’ overreliance on voiceover narration slows down an already bloated adaptation. Thoughtful editing could create more balanced pacing as the denouement is somewhat rushed, particularly after the languorous pacing of the first half.
Jared Pfennigwerth‘s spare set is a triumphant and arresting start. The stage floor is marked with painted grid lines, reminiscent of an archaeological dig site and a crime screen. This visual intersection beautifully foreshadows the play’s narrative. Center stage is the immediate focal point. A large, outstretched dog named Wellington looks like it’s “running on its side.” The instrument of Wellington’s death, a garden fork, protrudes from his stuffed side.
Fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone (played by Christian Jones) is accused of killing Wellington. In response to this unjust accusation, Christopher decides to play Sherlock Holmes to uncover the dog’s actual murderer, despite repeated warnings from his father to “let it go.” Christopher is on the autism spectrum. His desire to solve the crime forces him to confront and endure uncomfortable situations in leaving his home and speaking to his neighbors. Jones, who has Asperger’s himself, is perfectly cast as Christopher. Jones’ capacity for nuance brings Christopher to life in small ways, like balling up the hem of his shirt in his hand at tense moments, and death-defying actions, like when he risks his life to rescue his pet rat, Toby.
As Christopher approaches his neighbors’ homes for questioning, sound designers Carley Lyon (also the director) and Jared Pfennigwerth thoughtfully use sound amplification. They exaggerate and amplify the sound of Christopher nervously clicking his ballpoint pen, suggesting the overwhelming and daunting nature of this action for Christopher, allowing the audience inside his head and transmogrifying what appears to be a seemingly simple and ordinary action of speaking to neighbors.
Nick Redford plays Christopher’s father, Ed. Both Redford and Christopher’s mom, Judy (played by Kerry McGrath), falter at times with the darker nuances their roles demand. At one point, Ed slaps Christopher, but it’s a tentatively incomplete action that lacks authenticity. Director Carley Lyon diminishes the play’s high stakes potential with these missed opportunities to cultivate darker moments that open the aperture on the complicated nature of parent/child relationships.
Lyon and her creativity absolutely shine in lighter moments. An ensemble performs a variety of roles and functions that provide context to the spare set. At one point, the ensemble portrays various objects in the Boone household. Lyon utilizes an arm bent at the elbow that “pushes” open to represent a door. When Christopher heats something up in the microwave, an actor spins and dings in representation of a microwave turntable. The ever-present archaeological gridlines on the stage remind us of the layers of action and history that take place over a site and during a life, making us think about our own journeys through time as we become alumni of this theatrical moment.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time plays at Little Lake through May 29th. To learn more and purchase tickets for the show, please visit https://www.littlelake.org/curiousincident