This week I had opportunity to see two very different productions with very different approaches to the idea of living in one’s own head. You wouldn’t think that THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME and SEUSSICAL: THE MUSICAL would be complimentary pieces, not at first glance anyway. Each remarkable in their own way, distinct in style and subject matter. But still, they share similar themes. We’ll explore that idea in each review.
On Thursday, I attended opening night of CURIOUS INCIDENT. It’s a multi-award winning play, including the Tony Award for Best Play in 2015. It’s also based on a very well-reviewed book. Here’s a quick rundown: Christopher discovers that his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, has been murdered. He is accused at first by the dog’s owner, but Christopher – unable to tell a lie – did not do it. He’s unable to lie you see, because he sees the world very concretely. He’s somewhere on the Autism Spectrum, and in a special school, where he’s head and shoulders above the rest of the students there. But he’s a kind boy, a sensitive one, who also happens to be a genius at solving problems. Usually they are math problems, but as we find out through the course of the play he also solves mysteries. And train schedules. In fact, Christopher discovers that he can do just about anything.
The second act of this fantastic play is better than the first, which is not to say that the first act is bad. But until the audience (and the cast) settles in, finding the rhythm of the staging and story, it’s unclear what kind of story this is. However, once we learn about the OTHER mysteries buried in this complicated script, the play comes alive.
CURIOUS INCIDENT would not work if the lead actor is not committed – and likable. Nick LaMedica is outrageously good as Christopher. He finds layers in a character that many would play with less dynamic. I’m certain renown director, Marcia Milgrom Dodge, helped him find that place back when this production first went up in St. Louis. (It’s a “co-pro,” meaning that two theatre share resources to stage a play, moving it from one city to another.) An audience member near me remarked at intermission, “How does he do this every night?” Commitment, that’s how.
He’s surrounded by a phenomenal ensemble, including two “Ghost’s of Christmas Past” from the Playhouse’s annual tradition, A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Kathleen Wise, a Cincinnati native, is Siobhan, an empathetic and supportive teacher. Dale Hodges, a Cincinnati treasure, plays a kindly neighbor, who provides cookies and clues to help in Christopher’s detective work. There’s also the very funny Laiona Michelle and Dathan B. Williams. Kevin Cutts plays the closest thing to a villain the play has, while Michael Baxter and Ka-Ling Cheung support with their multiple bit roles. Finally, there’s Amy Blackman (“Judy”) and Jimmy Kieffer (“Ed”). They are Christopher’s parents, flawed and lovely. I especially liked their work.
Technically this show seems simple; I heard it described as “minimalistic.” But in fact, the set is kind of elaborate, with many moving parts as props, simple but important costume changes, and great use of text on the walls. (I couldn’t help but wonder who was in charge of making sure the right stuff gets erased after each performance.)
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, while about a teenager, is appropriate for mature students as there are mature themes and some adult language. But it’s a powerful show. There IS power in the mind. Even if you are sometimes stuck living in your head (like those with some forms of autism or OCD or generalized anxiety), with the right experiences, support, and a whole lot of bravery one might just be able to accomplish anything. Like SEUSSICAL – which will be the next review posted so be sure to read it, too – it’s amazing how powerful our minds really are when they are allowed freedom to think.
Dodge and her cast – along with the Playhouse crew – have certainly accomplished something with this moving, important, and entertaining production.
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME runs through November 11th at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. Click here for more information.