I suppose how you accept the ending of this curious case of sleuthing by a math savant, depends upon how you feel about dogs more than math. There is some math involved at the end of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” the kind you learned in geometry, but that is after the denouement, sort of a kid showing off how bright he is and you perhaps remembering how bright you once were. This Tony-Award winning National Theatre Production continues at the Ahmanson until 10 September 2017.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” was adapted to stage by Simon Stephens from a 2003 novel of the same name. British writer Mark Haddon doesn’t claim to be an expert on Asperger syndrome or autism spectrum disorder, but the book and the play isn’t about Asperger. It’s about being different and, at times, overwhelmed by the world and its mysteries.
The title of the book comes from the Sherlock Holmes short story, “Silver Blaze,” the story of a so-named racehorse that disappears just before an important race. After looking at the evidence, Holmes indicates to Gregory that he’d like to draw his attention “to the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” The dog did nothing and that is what’s so curious. Gregory, although competent, lacked imagination according to Holmes.
In the play,the 15-year-old Christopher Boone (Adam Langdon) finds a large off-white dog dead by a rude run-through by a garden pitchfork. The dog, Wellington, belongs to the neighbor, Mrs. Shears (Kathy McCafferty), who finds Christopher standing over her pooch. He’s silent in shock and becomes the primary suspect. When the police officer touches him, Christopher interprets that as an attack as he does any time someone touches him. This results in his arrest, but his widowed father, Ed (Gene Gillette), bails him out, explaining Christopher’s peculiar problems with communicating with people, but he does have an attachment to his pet rat Toby and one considers, perhaps Wellington as well.
Christopher begins to investigate the dog’s death, writing his progress into a murder mystery novel. This forces Christopher to look for clues around his neighborhood and within his own home. A neighbor, Mrs. Alexander (Amelia White), reveals that his father isn’t a widower. His wife and Christopher’s mother ran away with another man, the husband (John Hemphill) of Mrs. Shears, Roger. Christopher then finds letters addressed to him from his mother, written after the date of her supposed death.
Shocked and angry at his father, Christopher decides to take a perilous journey to London to find his mother Judy who is living with Mr. Shears. The electronics of the set (video design by Finn Ross, lighting design by Paule Constable and sound design by Ian Dickinson for Autograph) are effective in creating the confusion that Christopher faces both emotionally and physically.
Under director Marianne Elliott, Langdon is neither precious nor annoying. He’s a young man who craves order and rigid rules in a world of disorder. Yet the curious incident pushes him to be more daring and more creative than before.
The horror of the Wellington’s death is mitigated by the rather bloodless nature of it. We never get to know what Wellington was or what he really meant. Christopher, in solving this mystery, confronts emotional darkness that he can’t quite understand. As with Downton Abbey, not everything can be resolved with a cute puppy. Not for me at least.
Yet that’s a minor quibble. This play works best as a reminder of the kind of alienation and sometimes overwhelming changes that we’ve seen. I’m told my grandmother was frightened by subways and trains, the hustle and bustle of Chicago after living for decades in the countryside of rural San Diego. More recently I’ve seen seniors overwhelmed by the internet and social media and the depths and dangers of cyberspace. One doesn’t have to be old to be overwhelmed but we can all at any age have patience with those who would prefer to be living in peace away from technology.