The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis began its 51st season on Friday, September 8th with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
When I learned that this show was being put on here in St. Louis, I knew I had to see it, because it is adapted from one of my favorite books. (And that is an understatement.)
On opening night, I went into that theater as excited as if I were about to finally meet a long-time friend I’d never seen in person. Thus, the cast and crew had a daunting task to impress this long-time fan.As the lights came up on the beautifully peculiar set, and the world of Christopher Boone engulfed me, I breathed a sigh of relief. My long-time friend had finally come to meet me.
For those unfamiliar with the novel by British author Mark Haddon, you may wonder for the first scene or two what isn’t quite adding up about the young man in red named Christopher Boone. It doesn’t take long, however; to catch on to the fact that Christopher is different from the average 15-year-old boy. Yes, he loves dogs and his pet rat Toby. Yes, he loves to watch television with his father, Ed. He also happens to loathe the colors yellow and brown, being touched, and talking to strangers. Oh, and also…he’s a mathematical wizard. Not literally, but, well, almost. Christopher would find my figurative language annoying. And would tell me so.
What a delightful character for actor Nick LaMedica to take on! What a great deal of pressure, right? Pfft. He made it look like a breeze. In the span of a few hours, I was not only convinced that he was a teenage boy, but that perhaps he actually IS a mathematical prodigy! (Be sure to stay after the final bow to understand my hypothesis further. Although, if you’re like me, and you hate math, you may get a bit of a headache. It’s okay; it’s worth it.)
I won’t go so far as to state outright that Christopher suffers from autism. This is for two reasons: 1.) Christopher’s disability is not what causes his suffering in this story. 2. ) Neither Haddon nor Simon Stephens, who adapted the book for the stage in London, state this, either. (There is an interesting short read in the show’s program about autism provided by Easterseals Midwest Autism Services.)
I like that director/choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge did not feed the audience this information in this performance, either. She allowed us to learn for ourselves. The entire cast and crew carries this task out seamlessly, through what I can only describe as a constant visual and aural overstimulation. Halfway through, I realized that I was experiencing all that I was seeing and hearing in a state of constant anxiety, and, honestly? Even in a state of irritation at times. But then, wouldn’t that be what the world seemed like to you if you could not understand why people don’t say what they mean or mean what they say? Wouldn’t it be a terrifying world when you just can’t get the formula for emotion right, but the Pythagorean Theorem is a piece of cake?
My biggest curiosity going into this show was if it would translate from page to stage, and how would they DO it? The answer is by taking a cast of only 10 and assigning almost every actor/actress more than one role. (This story contains many a secondary character.) Upon first realizing this, I thought Naw, this can’t work well. It did, though! Every single cast member played an essential role of character, set designer, and prop. In fact, you will notice that the entire cast remains onstage for almost the entirety of the production. At some points, they are almost shadows on the wall. At points I thought I would find all of them distracting to Christopher and the ever-important mystery of who killed his neighbor’s beloved dog, but I then wondered to myself if maybe these people were really there, and we are seeing what Christopher sees, or, rather doesn’t. He lives in his world, which has a smaller and more focused scope than most people.
It was also interesting to see how the story is narrated by many characters in the show. We are seeing a play within a play, as Christopher’s teacher Siobhan reads the play he has written aloud. Kathleen Wise gives off a lovely, maternal glow in this role. Amy Blackman also plays a unique narrator. She and Jimmy Kieffer, who plays Christopher’s father, are both experts at dramatic tension. I heard many a gasp in chairs around me.
Guys, I could gush for days about this show and these actors, but I’ll stop and urge you to GO. SEE. IT. (For balancing sake, I will say that I could have done without some of the sort of contemporary choreography. I understand what it was conveying, and many will like it, but it was not my personal taste.) Also, I should warn you, if you are on the conservative side when it comes to profanity, follow Christopher’s/Nick’s lead and avert your ears from time to time. It will come at you right out of the gate. The very first word of the show. This sailor-mouthed viewer loved it, though. (I should add that there are only a handful of curse words. All are very much needed for the tension in this story.)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs through October 1st. Plenty of time for you to laugh, gasp, tear up, and puzzle over a good prime number and mystery. Plenty of time to think over the fine line between disability and gift.
Just be courteous to Christopher and don’t wear any yellow or brown.
While you’re taking the time to attend the Rep productions this year, also consider having an elegant and delicious meal with Café at the Rep, provided by With Love Catering. There are lots of great dishes to choose from so check out their menu HERE and make sure to make a reservation. The seats fill up quickly!