Life can be such a ‘Cu­ri­ous’ thing

An en­gag­ing and thor­oughly orig­i­nal sleuth un­cov­ers a lot in riv­et­ing ‘In­ci­dent.’


“The Cu­ri­ous In­ci­dent of the Dog in the Night-Time,” Si­mon Stephens’ Tony-win­ning adap­ta­tion of Mark Had­don’s best­selling novel, presents the world of Christo­pher Boone as this young ac­ci­den­tal de­tec­tive uniquely ex­pe­ri­ences it.

Christo­pher’s con­di­tion isn’t named, but it has many of the hall­marks of Asperger’s syn­drome. Christo­pher can­not tol­er­ate be­ing touched. An­i­mals are his friends, but hu­man emo­tions per­plex him. He’s a whiz with num­bers and can re­mem­ber ev­ery in­ci­den­tal de­tail in a land­scape, but he needs to take a re­me­dial class on life ac­tiv­i­ties.

As played by Adam Langdon in the Na­tional Theatre pro­duc­tion that is likely to find an ap­pre­cia­tive au­di­ence at the Ah­man­son Theatre, where the play opened on Thurs­day, Christo­pher seems like a quirky 15-yearold still grow­ing into his lanky frame and still wrestling to un­der­stand an adult world that is more du­plic­i­tous than it ap­pears. (Ben­jamin Wheel­wright plays the de­mand­ing role at week­end mati­nees.)

There’s a Ham­let-like qual­ity to Christo­pher, who is sim­i­larly bur­dened with the re­spon­si­bil­ity of ad­min­is­ter­ing jus­tice to a mur­derer, al­beit of a pet. And like Shake­speare’s melan­choly prince, he be­comes in­creas­ingly over­whelmed by the dis­cov­er­ies he makes of the peo­ple clos­est to him.

In hunt­ing down the cul­prit with his al­go­rith­mic logic, Christo­pher un­cov­ers

many painful truths about grownup re­al­ity. But he also finds within him­self re­sources he didn’t know he had. His re­siliency in the face of dis­ap­point­ment and dis­il­lu­sion­ment is no doubt part of the wide­spread ap­peal of a drama that has ri­valed in pop­u­lar­ity some suc­cess­ful re­cent mu­si­cals.

I’ve seen Mar­i­anne El­liott’s pro­duc­tion in the West End and on Broad­way, where she won the Tony for her di­rec­tion (her sec­ond af­ter “War Horse”), and what con­tin­ues to im­press me is the way she dy­nam­i­cally the­atri­cal­izes Christo­pher’s re­la­tion­ship to the world.

The box-like set by Bunny Christie is en­livened with video pro­jec­tions (a wel­ter of com­puter screen graph­ics de­signed by Finn Ross); blips, beeps and po­etic clangs (the sound magic of Ian Dick­in­son for Au­to­graph); and light­ing ef­fects that can be­come blind­ing in mo­ments of cri­sis (the artistry of Paule Con­sta­ble). The scene in which Christo­pher tries to res­cue his pet rat, which has es­caped its car­rier and jumped onto dan­ger­ous train tracks, com­bines th­ese de­sign el­e­ments into a dream­scape of mul­ti­me­dia sus­pense.

Christo­pher be­gins writ­ing a book about his de­tec­tive work that his teacher Siob­han (Maria Elena Ramirez) con­vinces him to turn into a play. His father, Ed (Gene Gil­lette), is ve­he­mently op­posed to this in­ves­ti­ga­tion for rea­sons that will take time to sort out, but Christo­pher isn’t eas­ily de­terred from his mis­sion.

De­spite all the ex­ter­nal and in­ter­nal ob­sta­cles, the case of the slain dog and the theater project move for­ward. El­liott’s pro­duc­tion loosely plays with the idea that the drama we are watch­ing is the one that is be­ing pre­sented at Christo­pher’s school. That ex­plains some of the mug­ging and goofi­ness, but rather than fix­ate on in­stances of ex­ces­sive cutesi­ness, I found my­self ad­mir­ing the phys­i­cal flu­id­ity of the per­form­ers, most of whom take on nu­mer­ous roles. The chore­og­ra­phy by Scott Gra­ham and Steven Hoggett for Fran­tic As­sem­bly isn’t as sharp as it was in Lon­don or New York, but it’s mar­velously ex­pres­sive of Christo­pher’s mode of per­cep­tion.

This is a char­ac­ter who nav­i­gates his path with an ob­ses­sive or­der­li­ness, mov­ing ac­cord­ing to the rules of some chess­board game of his own in­ven­tion. The wrong color or, even worse, an unasked-for hug can throw him wildly off-course. El­liott’s stag­ing vividly ex­ter­nal­izes both the el­e­gance and chaos of a mind that ex­cels in math­e­mat­ics but can short-cir­cuit dur­ing friendly small talk with a benev­o­lent old neigh­bor.

The big­gest dif­fer­ence be­tween Langdon’s Christo­pher and the award-win­ning pre­de­ces­sors I’ve seen in the role (Alex Sharp on Broad­way and Luke Tread­away in Lon­don) has to do with the emo­tional color that seeps into his line read­ings. His ge­nial per­for­mance lacks the aus­ter­ity that made “Cu­ri­ous In­ci­dent” in­struc­tively chal­leng­ing for the­ater­go­ers who ex­pect char­ac­ters to mir­ror their own sen­ti­men­tal pro­cess­ing of the play’s ex­pe­ri­ence.

Langdon thank­fully doesn’t overdo it, but Christo­pher’s en­thu­si­asms and dis­ap­point­ments have a more fa­mil­iar ring to them. Was this a con­scious de­ci­sion by the tour to soften the char­ac­ter­i­za­tion or just the re­sult of an ac­tor’s dis­tinc­tive in­ter­pre­tive shad­ing? In any case, the por­trayal is still most pow­er­ful when it ex­presses sad­ness or ten­der­ness more ob­jec­tively, a body col­lapsed on the floor af­ter an ex­plo­sion of dis­tress or an out­stretched palm giv­ing the green light for handto-hand con­tact.

Christo­pher’s father may be the cen­tral fig­ure in his life, but it is through the women on­stage that we come to un­der­stand him best. As Siob­han, Ramirez brings a de­voted at­ten­tion to her in­ter­ac­tions with a gifted pupil who de­duces on his own that even the most com­mit­ted teacher can­not be a mother. Felic­ity Jones Latta, in the role of Christo­pher’s mom, helps us to see more hu­manely how love and fal­li­bil­ity can co­ex­ist.

“Cu­ri­ous In­ci­dent” re­fuses to la­bel Christo­pher be­cause la­bels are un­nec­es­sar­ily lim­it­ing. The end­ing mov­ingly bal­ances the ope­nend­ed­ness of his story with some un­spo­ken re­al­ism about the chal­lenges he will con­tinue to face. The suc­cess of the play can be mea­sured by how in­vested we have be­come in Christo­pher’s fu­ture.

Kirk McKoy Los An­ge­les Times

AC­CI­DEN­TAL de­tec­tive Christo­pher is por­trayed by Adam Langdon, cen­ter, at the Ah­man­son Theatre. He’s seen with John Hem­phill and Felic­ity Jones Latta.

Kirk McKoy Los An­ge­les Times

LIFE is mo­men­tar­ily over­whelm­ing for Christo­pher (Adam Langdon) as he pur­sues mys­ter­ies in “In­ci­dent.”

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