Almost every scene in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time inspires a variety of deep emotional reactions, so choosing just one to introduce the brilliance of this script is a challenge. If forced to choose, I would decide upon a relatively quiet scene. Christopher (Adam Jones Langdon), a 15-year-old, has discovered a box of letters addressed to him from his mother Judy (Felicity Jones Latta). Christopher believed that Judy was dead, but her letters reveal that she is alive and residing in London.
Judy dictates the letter from backstage while Christopher pieces together a model train set center stage: “I was not a good Mother, Christopher. Maybe if things had been different, maybe if you’d been different, I might have been better at it. But that’s just the way things turned out.”
Christopher is a boy with autism. Everything he says is bluntly truthful. When he is in an overstimulating environment, his world is clogged with oppressive and painful static. He is prone to loud and sometimes violent tantrums. He cannot abide to be touched—a circumstance that is relevant in the show’s opening when a policeman tries to lift Christopher by the arm. A big mistake for all involved.
Judy’s letter, while heart-breakingly honest, is a revelation that Christopher’s autism contributed to her failures as a mother. Perhaps highlighting a quote from Judy’s letters unfairly paints her as a villain, for Curious Incident does not have a villain—it has three main characters who struggle due to the extent that Christopher interprets the world differently from others. As the show progresses, Judy has an opportunity for redemption; her efforts are admirable if not perfect.
Another side on the triangle created by the three main characters—triangles and other geometric shapes play an important role throughout—is Ed (Gene Gillette), Christopher’s remarkably patient father. Ed’s life revolves around Christopher, and playwright Mark Haddon accentuates the wide spectrum of his character in Ed’s early scenes. Ed is first seen at the police station, where Christopher is being held for striking the policeman. Without a word, Ed holds out his open palm to Christopher, patiently waiting for his distressed son to reciprocate with his own hand (this is the only touching that Christopher will allow). Ed then listens as Christopher calms himself by lecturing about stars in the universe. Soon after, we see the gruffer, blue-colored Ed arguing with Mrs. Gascoyne, the principal of Christopher’s school. Ed wants Christopher to take A level math classes. He tells Mrs. Gascoyne, “I’m not going to take no for an answer,” and he doesn’t. He does not accept no from anyone when his son’s benefit is concerned.
Christopher’s progression begins with the mystery of a murdered dog, expands through the realization that his mother is alive, travels through a 20-minute odyssey in which Christopher navigates his way from Swindon to London, and circles back to the most suspenseful math problem ever presented theatrically. All of this action is enhanced by the stage, which is a geometric masterpiece. The characters are enclosed in a large black box, which is embedded with lights forming their own visual squares. As Christopher works through particularly challenging ideas, he draws shapes on the floor, which are projected onto the three walls—an interesting device that grants a visual representation of Christopher’s thought process.
Curious Incident dominated the Olivier Awards in 2013 and the Tony Awards in 2015, earning the top honors for original play, director, and lead actor in both cases (among a number of technical awards). The national tour is a must-see opportunity to experience Curious Incident in its most extravagant staging. However, one particularly exciting aspect of Curious Incident is its potential to transfer to smaller houses. The scene changes are created more by narration than by scenery, and the large cast drives much of the plot through black-box style acting. This play will hopefully become a mainstay even at the high school level, where teens will find much to relate to in the protagonist’s inspiring story.