At the Andrew Johnson Theater in TPAC:
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
I was excited to see this play. I read Mark Haddon’s book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in high school, and really enjoyed it. It is funny, kind, and optimistic, despite the protagonist’s difficult life. Christopher is a 15 year old who has
some sort of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), although neither the book or the play get specific about it. To quote the
director, Micah-Shane Brewer, “…This is not a play about ASD. This is a play about Christopher.” And Christopher is a delightful character. The book is written from his perspective, as a project and part of his mission to discover who killed his neighbor’s dog. This endeavor digs up more pain and joy than anyone expects. As an outsider to “normal” people’s behavior, his observations are hilarious. It’s a rare combination of being relatable while making us laugh at ourselves. We all relate to what it feels like to be an outsider, and it is fun to laugh at ourselves and the “normal” things we do that we don’t really think about. I was curious– how could this delightful viewpoint transfer to a play?
The adaptation, done by Simon Stephens, does it quite well. Christopher’s teacher, Siobhan, played by Sejal Mehta, reads sections of his book aloud, sometimes as simple narration, sometimes in scenes while they interact, allowing for her comments and questions. This way we can get Christopher’s funny observations and explanations without him having to give excessive asides or otherwise slow scenes down. The play is excellently paced. The only moments I disliked in the adaptation were a few brief meta-references to the play itself. I think they were in the spirit of the book, but meta-references in a book, when the main character is supposedly the author, retain an authentic feeling that a play cannot emulate in the same way.
I saw the play opening night in TPAC’s Andrew Johnson Theater, which I hadn’t realized existed before because it’s in the basement. It’s a black box theater, and despite the ominous low-ceilinged entrance, it is quite a good theater. The seats are comfortable, the view is good, and the air-conditioning actually works. The set is a floor and backdrop of black with a grid taped over it, like graph paper. There are no additional backdrops or sets. A projector is used, shining on the back wall. It is used well, to assist with images as used in the book, or in showcasing the crazy ads and confusion of English train stations. It avoids overuse or dependence. Besides a few small, carried items, the only props are square boxes that are moved around the set to become chairs or train platforms or whatever else is needed. Any potential confusion that could take place between rapid scene changes is avoided through adept and smooth lighting, designed by Darren Levin.
Ben Friesen, who played Christopher Boone, does a marvelous job. He is likable and brings out the charm and innocence of his character. He shows social awkwardness and other behavior associated with the autism spectrum with respect and humor. Since the entire story is focused on Christopher, the person cast in that role makes or breaks the play. Ben Friesen makes the play. [photo of Ben Friesen, Nat McIntyre, Lauren Berst, 2.png]
Nat McIntyre and Lauren Berst play Christopher’s mother and father, and successfully and empathetically show their characters’ flaws and strengths. Their roles involve a lot of conflict and confusion over how to care for their child, and their portrayal provokes thought.
Many members of the cast play multiple roles, but the skilled costuming and acting avoids any confusion. Everyone has comedic timing and moves swiftly and cleanly through busy choreographed scenes in simulation of train stations and frantic rushes.
The play is set in England, and Katie Cunningham as Dialect Coach made sure everyone’s accents sounded plausible and consistent, saving the play from any potential cockney enthusiast.
The Fight Choreographer is Eric D. Pasto-Crosby. The few moments of physical conflict are tense and feel real.
The audience laughed at every joke and grew quiet and tense at all the right moments. A lot of the humor is in the dialogue and narration, but there are excellent moments of social awkwardness or, in one particular moment, childish humor, when a rat dressed in a space suit bobs around the stage. All the conversations I heard during intermission were of cheerful enjoyment. After the play ended, we had to make our crowded way out of the theater, through the small lobby, to wait at the elevators in a low-ceilinged area, and then cram in like sardines. I did not enjoy this uncomfortable departure and I thought it was rather funny that, after watching Christopher Boone struggle in crowds, we now had to as well.
You should see this play. It’s of that rare type of fiction which you enjoy with ease, allowed to laugh at normalcy without cynicism, and which makes you resolve to be a better, more empathetic person. I tried to choose my favorite part about this play and performance, but I couldn’t. Every part of it went so well together, each actor in their role, every bit of choreography, the timing of the lighting and projector and sound effects, the way they drew the audience in so successfully. The Nashville Repertory Theatre chose an excellent play and performed it with heart.
The Nashville Repertory Theatre is performing the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at TPAC, March 24-April 2. For tickets and more information about the show, click here: https://nashvillerep.org/curiousincident