Sunday, May 14, 2017

Curious incident

I was at the Fisher Theater in Detroit Friday evening for a performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. This is based on a novel of the same title by Mark Haddon, which I very much enjoyed (and I recently discovered I still have). This play was written by Simon Stephens. In 2013 it was nominated for eight Laurence Olivier Awards (British equivalent to the Tony Awards) and won seven. In 2015 It was nominated for six Tony Awards and won five. It also won a slew of awards from the Outer Critics Circle, Drama League, and Drama Desk.

The story is about Christopher at age 15. The play doesn’t offer a diagnosis (the novel doesn’t either), though one might conclude the lad has high-functioning autism. The author says says he didn’t study autism before writing the book. Even so, doctors say he got it right. Christopher is great at math and wants to take an exam usually given at age 18. But people confuse him – he can’t figure out how facial expressions relate to emotions. He doesn’t like to be touched. He understands only the literal meaning of words, so he always tells the truth. He loves red and considers it brings good luck, but he hates yellow and brown.

The story opens with Christopher discovering a neighbor’s dog is dead. He enjoyed playing with the dog, so is distressed to see it gone. This isn’t giving anything away because the corpse is on stage as we walk into the theater.

Since the police won’t, Christopher decides to investigate who killed the dog. This is brave of him because he doesn’t deal well with strangers. The investigation leads him to exploring his own house and he finds uncomfortable things about his parents. Those discoveries drive the rest of the story.

The stage was high-tech. We saw three walls and floor in black with a white grid. There were LED lights at the corners of the grid which could be turned on in various patterns and colors. There were also projection systems to show various things on the walls and floors. Most of these showed the state of Christopher’s mind. Many of the grid squares also opened to show a well-lit compartment holding a prop for the scene, such as pieces for a model train set Christopher builds when he is agitated. There were a row of illuminated square tubes around the edge of the floor. This border was large enough that actors could sit on it while waiting to be a part of the scene. There were, of course, doors – one in each side wall and one in the back.

One actor portrayed Christopher’s teacher. She sometimes narrated the action as she read from the book that Christopher wrote describing what happens. Two more actors portrayed Christopher’s parents. The other eight actors played anywhere from two to six characters in addition to crowd scenes – such as when Christopher must navigate a train station while suffering from information overload.

During the show Christopher wants to explain one of his math problems to all of us. His teacher convinces him to do it after the story is told. So after the curtain calls the actor came back on stage and, while the projection system showed us, he explained and solved the problem, which is:
A triangle has sides of lengths: n-squared + 1, n-squared – 1, and 2n. For n greater than 1 prove that this triangle has a right angle.
For the solution think Pythagoras.

I very much enjoyed play. It had been a while since I read to book so there were only a few times when I knew what was coming. I had quite forgotten the ending.

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