English author Mark Haddon’s moving 2003 bestseller, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” chronicles the daunting difficulties faced by a 15-year-old boy somewhere on the autism spectrum. In 2012, it was adapted into a play with award-winning long runs in London and New York City. The national touring production faithfully reproduces the dazzling technical aspects from the Broadway version, while ramping up its intensity for the much larger tour venues.
Christopher doesn’t like to be touched, can’t decipher people’s intentions from their facial expressions, and avoids anything yellow. He takes refuge in the orderly worlds of math and science. When he happens upon a neighbor’s dead dog with a pitchfork stuck in it, a journey begins that leads to major revelations about his family and to big changes in his life.
The show’s visual elements are what many audiences will remember most. Bunny Christie’s stage-filling square set has grid-like walls that burst with projected numbers, drawings, subway maps and whirling colors, representing the workings of Christopher’s mind. Paule Constable’s dramatic (and sometimes blinding) lighting design and Ian Dickinson’s heart-thumping (and sometimes ear-splitting) sound design add to the perception of Christopher’s inner world. The depiction of Christopher’s harrowing train trip, from finding the platform to making the transfers, is the show’s tour-de-force highlight.
Simon Stephens’ script re-conceives the book’s narrative by having Christopher’s special-ed teacher Siobhan read out many passages from the book that she suggested he write about his journey. Stephens puts the story at another remove by having Siobhan inform the audience it’s all a play based on the book. Such conceits are clever theatrics but drain away the story’s inherent emotion and intimacy.
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Adam Langdon confidently displays Christopher’s various tics and eccentricities, with an impressive ability to roll out rapid dialogue filled with facts and formulas. But his aggressive stance and fever-pitched delivery undercut Christopher’s tender vulnerabilities. As Christopher’s parents, Gene Gillette and Felicity Jones Latta offer finely crafted characterizations, along with Maria Elena Ramirez’s upbeat Siobhan and Amelia White’s kindly neighbor Mrs. Alexander.
Marianne Elliott’s grand-scale direction makes the show into a big event that brings audiences to their feet, but those familiar with the novel’s beautiful simplicity may wish the staging had reflected more of it.
What: “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”
Where: Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Info: 919-680-2787 or dpacnc.com