|Michael Krenning and Kathryn Van Meter in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Kitaoka)|
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Everett: through May 19, 2019
Christopher didn’t kill the dog! But his neighbor, and Wellington’s owner, Mrs. Shears, thinks he did. So she calls the police. The policeman probably thinks Christopher killed the dog and makes a lot of warning noise at him, and then tries to touch him. Christopher hates being touched and he strikes out at the policeman. That gets him a written warning, a humiliation, and potentially a lot more trouble if he touches another policeman that way!
So begins the creative and absorbing story, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, currently at Village Theatre, Everett. The play does not specify that Christopher is not neurotypical, but makes it pretty clear that he thinks fairly differently and behaves differently than many people. What it does make clear is that the world does not accommodate Christopher’s differences very well and that he needs champions to help him succeed. The play makes the audience empathize so much that it’s likely most want to be his champion by the end!
The play started life as a book by Mark Haddon, and then became an internationally celebrated play by Simon Stephens. A local actor, Mickey Rowe, found himself tapped to play the central role of Christopher, aged 15 ¼, once the play started making the rounds of regional theatres and is the first autistic person to be cast in that role.
In this production, Michael Krenning takes on this very intricate and specific character and does an amazing job! He conveys with clarity the ways that Christopher thinks and manages his decisions about the world and how he should handle it.
After Christopher is accused of killing Mrs. Shears’ dog, he decides he must find the killer and methodically goes about asking people if they know. As this unfolds, we learn more about his family, and initially find out that he lives with his dad (played by James D. Sasser) and that his mom died. But when Christopher stumbles on a trove of letters addressed to him, he finds out that his mom has been writing to him all these months and that his dad has lied to him.
This is a major crisis, as most people would agree that finding out your father has grossly lied to you might be devastating. When Christopher finds out, as well, that his dad is actually the person who killed the dog, Christopher deduces that it might mean that his father is a danger to Christopher as well, and that Christopher must go find his mother to live with her, instead.
The second act is about his frightening, yet successful journey to find his mother (Kathryn Van Meter) and working through a process of whether he gets to live with her in London. Due to his sensitivities, it’s a scary journey, but the whole audience pulls for him to succeed.
Supporting cast members become incidental characters. They include Anne Allgood, Eric Polani Jensen, William Shindler, Rob Burgess, Keiko Green and Cheryl Massey Peters. A warmly supportive Jéhan Òsanyìn, as Christopher’s teacher or teaching assistant Siobhan, fills in a kind of narrative role as she reads from what might be Christopher’s personal book, or diary, that he’s writing but not intending to show anyone.
With sensitive direction from Jerry Dixon, and an infusion of movement around the stage by Sonia Dawkins, the play moves quickly and deliberately through its paces. A key aspect of this somewhat dimly lit production is the lighting scheme by Amiya Brown. Scenic designer Mark Wendland and projections designer Gregory W. Towle have their hands full with chalkboard sized screens getting pushed around the stage in strategic ways that project colors and patterns of Christopher’s feelings and experiences. Original underscoring is provided by Curtis Moore which adds to the overall atmosphere in significant ways.
While no one would call Judy, the mother, a great mother, Van Meter plays her with a ton of heart and longing. Along side the pathos and struggle of Christopher, Van Meter really calls out our empathy and sympathy in a lovely effort. She’s had a huge year, this year, in significant acting roles that show that she’s one of our major talents on stage.
This production is particularly great for anyone who has neuro-untypical family members that might like to see themselves portrayed on stage. But it’s also just a riveting event and a solid piece of theatrical presentation! Try to see it, since it’s closing this weekend. And if you can’t see it, maybe you should read the book.