Chicago Theatre Review
The Mystery of Life
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Broadway in Chicago
A young boy with special needs is shocked and deeply saddened to find Wellington, his neighbor’s dog, lying in the yard, stabbed to death with a garden pitchfork. Christopher Boone sets out to solve the mystery of who would commit such a savage, unthinkable crime. Christopher, although it’s never explicitly identified, is on the autism spectrum and must not only deal with this heartbreaking incident, but also his ever-evolving relationship with his parents, his teacher Siobhan, as well as with his neighbors and the cast of strangers who populate his world.
Based upon British author Mark Haddon’s 2003 award-winning young adult novel, this extraordinary story of a 15-year-old boy, with enough personal challenges to tax even the strongest of adults, becomes complicated when his life is turned upside down. All of the ensuing aggravation and entangled dilemmas Christopher experiences in this two-act play stem from his drive to solve the mystery that’s taken place in his own suburban neighborhood. However, he comes to learn a great deal about his parents’ relationship, as well as the people around him. His journey takes him far outside his comfort zone forcing Christopher to traverse the big city of London all alone. In addition, this mathematically gifted young man is hellbent on taking taking a mathematics exam that will prove his brilliance to the powers that be and allow him to skip ahead in school.
This play is a story about how most people, especially those with special needs, find great comfort in clinging to order. It explores how a boy with autism deals with family crisis and attempts to make some sense of the world around him, at least as he sees it. Christopher can’t read people. Everything is black and white. Facts are his security blanket, especially mathematics and lists of figures. Metaphors confuse him and he prefers statistics. In his book, Haddon created a stunning portrait of the inner workings of a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome. The play, adapted by Simon Stephens, debuted in London in 2012, winning seven Olivier Awards. The production transferred to Broadway in 2014, where it won every single theatrical award out there, including the Tony for Best Play. At long last this excellent National Tour has arrived in Chicago.
Marianne Elliot, the brilliant director of the incomparable play, “War Horse,” repeats her Broadway success, once again bringing this play to life for this tour. She’s cast her production with topnotch actors and an unrivaled creative team of technical support. She’s guided her actors with wisdom and sensitivity that translates into a gripping, stunning and heartbreaking production that ultimately brings audiences to their feet. We shed a few tears at the tenderness she’s coaxed out of this cast and we cheer Christopher’s achievement and his fight to survive against all odds.
The touring cast is led by a brilliant young actor named Adam Langdon (who alternates with Benjamin Wheelwright at matinees). With unrestrained compassion and energy Langdon becomes a teenager who has established his own rules and agenda for living, a kid with whom audiences will definitely empathize and love. The sheer physicality of this role is daunting enough, but the actor never leaves the stage and speaks continually with eloquence, enthusiasm and emotion. This astounding actor, while a different type than his Broadway predecessor, is truly wonderful. There can be few other roles like this and Mr. Langdon expertly commands the stage at every turn.
He’s supported by a wonderful supporting cast. Gene Gillette is Ed, Christopher’s frustrated, but very loving father. He plays a man who’s trying his best to be a good dad, but life gets in the way. Coping with the complications of being the father of a boy with unique special needs, along with trying to grapple with a married relationship that’s gone bad, Mr. Gillette creates a man who’s sad and touching. While evoking the audience’s empathy, we see someone dealing with a situation that’s grown way out of control. Felicity Jones Latta plays Judy, Christopher’s caring mother, who has hit the wall and sought solutions to life’s problems by running away from them. She adores Christopher and will do everything to protect and help him. Despite Judy’s inability to be the mother she’d like, Ms. Latta eventually earns our admiration, especially by the final scenes of the play.
As Siobhan, Christopher’s friend and special needs instructor, Maria Elena Ramirez is lovely. She’s the voice of calm, of reason, the one constant in Christopher’s life. She’s the kind of teacher we’d love for all our children. Amelia White is a sweetly earnest and caring neighbor lady, Mrs. Alexander, who befriends Christopher and provides some necessary information that starts him on his journey. Understudy Josephine Hall, who plays several roles, is particularly hilarious as the principal, Mrs. Gascoyne. Tim McKiernan steps into a number of roles on opening night, most notably the various policemen, with whom Christopher must deal. The remaining ensemble of actors are all terrific, sometimes interacting verbally with Christopher and often physically elevating him into air as he tumbles through this wonderland of adventures.
Marianne Elliott’s production once again features the creativity of several unseen artists, whose work is viewed and enjoyed. Bunny Christie is the award-winning scenic and costume designer of this production, complemented by Paule Constable’s unbelievable lighting and Finn Ross’ astounding video design. The perfect tone is set with original music, composed by Adrian Sutton, and the cast’s fantastic choreography is devised by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett. This is truly a total theatrical masterpiece.
Christopher’s attempt to cope with and solve the mystery of life, while dealing with his own special needs, is a story that grabs ahold of the audience and never lets go. Even after the curtain call, Christopher continues impressing us with a fast-paced explanation of how he solved the math equation that earned him his grade in math. This wonderful, engrossing play is like “Billy Elliot” meshed with “A Beautiful Mind.” It’s definitely one of the most amazing shows that theatergoers will likely see for a long time to come. Do not miss this production in its limited Chicago engagement!
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented December 6-24 by Broadway in Chicago at the Ford Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago.
Tickets are available at all BIC box offices, at all Ticketmaster retail locations, by calling the Broadway in Chicago Ticket Line at 800-775-2000 or by going to www.BroadwayInChicago.com
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.