Boy battles overstimulation

  • by Richard Dodds
  • Wednesday July 5, 2017
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We're on the outside looking in on a story told from the inside by someone looking out. To make us feel that we're on the inside too was the mighty challenge of turning Mark Haddon's novel "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" into a play, a challenge met head-on through an ingenious combination of old-fashioned storytelling, high-tech enhancement, and a winning performance at its center in the touring production of the London and Broadway hit now at the Golden Gate Theatre.

The challenges faced by playwright Simon Stephens and director Marianne Elliott, who adapted the novel for UK's National Theatre, go beyond inside-outside matters because the point-of-view in question belongs to a 15-year-old lad who, even though the word is never mentioned, has classic symptoms of autism. The world he sees through his eyes can easily become an overwhelming assault of stimuli whenever Christopher is required to quickly process too much information, whether it's a policeman's fast-paced questions or the barrage of noise, unfamiliar sights, and impatient strangers as he makes his way through a busy train station.

The production's impressive design team �" including Bunny Christie (sets), Paule Constable (lighting), Finn Ross (video) and Ian Dickinson (sound) �" gives us an immersive sense of what it may look like for Christopher when his synapses go into overdrive before a circuit breaker is tripped and he must shut down. A math whiz, a computer geek, and an astronomy buff, he exists in a stage-sized cube marked like graph paper where solutions to his challenges may find forms in points of lights on the floor and walls that can also turn into a cacophony of lights, sounds, projections, and careening actors when his carefully programmed internal GPS loses its way. At other times, there is a low-tech device for communicating Christopher's thoughts, by having other actors simply read from the novel, which Haddon wrote in the style of a first-person detective story that Christopher has written at the behest of his special-ed teacher.

Because he's not so good at conjuring fictional narratives, but likes solving puzzles, Christopher's book is a keenly observed chronicle of his search for the killer of a neighborhood dog, a quest of expanding ramifications that, to the squeals of the opening-night audience, ends with the appearance of a scene-stealing puppy. Not all of the adaptation works, with the second act skirting tedium in the sensory jumble meant to duplicate Christopher's experiences on his big adventure into London. But when these scenes do hit their mark, the results are often magical evocations of a mind not wired for anything but for an unadorned, logical world in which touching is painful and metaphors are suspicious wordplay.

The production has made its way from London to New York and to the road with different actors playing Christopher, and it's the kind of role that might seem nearly unimaginable with anyone but the performer before you. The production's other actors are more often than not playing familiar types, but with Christopher, Adam Langdon must create a singular personality without a set of shorthand touchstones. Langdon does just that, creating his specific vision of a teen who can be supercilious in one moment and devoid of all defenses in another. Perhaps because it is such a physical role beyond its emotional intensity, Landon is spelled by Benjamin Wheelwright at certain performances.

The other performers are called upon to play multiple roles, and several go beyond competent versatility. As Christopher's tutor in coping skills, Maria Elena Ramirez creates a character of glowing empathy who knows when and how far Christopher can be pushed. There is frazzled but determined warmth in Felicity Jones Latta's performance as Christopher's mother, while Gene Gillette plays his father with a physical angularity that emphasizes his awkward love for his son. Playing something of a neighborhood busybody, Amelia White creates a character with a genuine kindness that can put Christopher briefly at his ease.

And that's even though she must say "cookies" instead of "biscuits," an Americanization of the original script, and an anomaly that Christopher would be the first to point out.


"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" will run through July 23 at the Golden Gate Theatre. Tickets are $55-$275. Call (888) 746-1799 or go to