Mary Moody Northen Theatre's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
This moving, transformative show gives its autistic hero a deep and engaging humanity
Reviewed by Laura Jones, Fri., Feb. 21, 2020
The Mary Moody Northen Theatre, where St. Edward's University is currently producing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, is a theatre in the round. On elevated risers above the playing space hang tilted metal cages in front of flashing images. These cages are an apt metaphor for the mind of the show's main character, Christopher, an autistic boy who struggles to crack the mystery of his neighborhood dog, dead via pitchfork through the side. Christopher finds him pinned in the yard, and loving him in death as he did in life, throws his arms around the body. It isn't odd then that, when Christopher is discovered, he's fingered as the dog's murderer. This misunderstanding, and the trouble that ensues, draws him deeper into the "curious incident," and like his hero Sherlock Holmes, he is determined to unravel it. Christopher doesn't know at the time, but the dog is just an entry point to an even deeper mystery that involves his own life.
Autistic people and their portrayal are of particular interest to me. I've mentioned before in this paper that my 13-year-old daughter is autistic, and I am always struck by her uniqueness. In Simon Stephens' play, based on the novel by Mark Haddon, Christopher is more of an archetype, one we've come to recognize – a quirky and brilliant Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, able to decipher indecipherable math problems yet unable to interpret metaphors or navigate common relationship issues. Fortunately, Christopher is interpreted here with great tenderness and exuberance by young Emile Sivero, and his hard work pays off in giving us more than just a stereotype. His Christopher has a deep and engaging humanity.
Sivero is supported by a tight ensemble that literally serve as Christopher's limbs at times, his voice at others. Teacher Siobhan (the appealing Annie Eldridge) is his narrator, reading from the book he is "writing" about the curious incident, which is simultaneously being turned into a play that we are watching. These types of metatextual bends are played for laughs rather than drama, which works to keep the mood light among Christopher's heartbreaking confusion. Throughout the play, he must contend with betrayal, fear, and the fact that his brain works differently than everyone else's.
Kudos to the staging by Robert Tolaro and high production values, which includes a blend of multimedia, lighting, sound, and effective props, like a small toy railroad that Christopher builds around himself in one poignant scene. I particularly enjoyed the beautiful renderings of outer space, where Christopher longs to live. He's sure he can become an astronaut because of all those machines and, better yet, no people to contend with. As he sits in his makeshift rocketship or spins beneath the light-effect stars held up by the ensemble's hands, he appears genuinely joyful, released from the prison of his mind and the curious incidents that surround him. Up there, there is only space and freedom. I want him to be able to stay there, but I know we desperately need him down here with us. We learn from people like Christopher and can all take away something from this moving and transformative show.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeMary Moody Northen Theatre at St. Edward's University, 3001 S. Congress
Through Feb. 23
Running time: 2 hr., 20 min.