“THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME,” through Sept. 30, Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 South 1400 East, Salt Lake City (801-581-6961 or pioneertheatre.org); running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission)
Pioneer Theatre Company's brilliant new "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" is a heartfelt and heartbreaking journey that proves life knows no limits.
Directed by PTC artistic director Karen Azenberg, this immersive, deliberate take on the Tony Award-winning play by Simon Stephens and adapted from Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel is emotion at its finest.
It is the story of 15-year-old Christopher Boone (Harrison Bryan), a genius, high-functioning autistic boy falsely accused of murdering his neighbor’s dog. Christopher then, against his father’s will, goes on a mission to solve the murder.
This proves to be challenging as Christopher is exceptional at math but lacks basic social skills. He rarely leaves the house, let alone ride a train, and lives a life of routines and habits. He “finds people confusing,” can never tell a lie, has trouble “doing chatting” and refuses to be touched.
But his mind is unstoppable, and he can identify patterns yet unseen. His brain unlocks complicated matters like the universe and mathematics and makes them simple. He sees things that most of us ignore and don’t often recognize. But the things we ignore he sees and feels immensely.
In his quest to solve the murder, Christopher uncovers a dark mystery that rocks his entire world. Through this inspirational journey, Christopher learns that despite his disability, he can do anything.
The story is told as a reading of Christopher’s own book about the mystery, read aloud in segments by his teacher.
As Christopher, Bryan is magnetic and spellbinding in his vulnerability. He fully embodies the character of an anguished autistic boy, both in physicality and emotional depth. His matter-of-fact attitude and ownership of his condition make him accessible and leaves the audience rooting for him at every turn.
Bryan's interactions with Toby, Christopher's pet rat, are a highlight. He advocates for his little friend since he is “very clean and doesn’t have the bubonic plague.” This connection is another example of Christopher’s ability to find joy and wonder in things normal people would never think about.
As Christopher’s father, Tom O’Keefe portrays a reserved, comforting parent struggling to raise a special needs child on his own and captures the everyday rollercoaster of love and anguish. His loyalty and desire for a connection with a person who doesn’t know how to emotionally connect is heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time.
As Christopher’s previously absent mother, Stephanie Howell is adept at showing the humanity of the role. Her desperation to just have a normal interaction with her son was emotionally jarring.
Another key character of the play is the set. There is magic in the set's simplicity as it transports audiences into Christopher’s mind. Surprises come out of every simple shape of Daniel Meeker’s design. The defined patterns, lines and simple, yet complex, mechanics provided a visual representation of the way Christopher’s mind processes information.
The sound, designed by former PTC resident sound designer Joe Payne back as a guest designer, was minimal yet impactful. Meanwhile, the lighting, designed by guest designer Paul Miller, guided the story in a linear fashion. It allowed for an exceptional use of the stage and drew the audience into the intensity of the story. It was subtle, like a good movie when you forget you’re watching a movie and you're just entrenched in the story.
"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" affirms the core belief that we can overcome life’s challenges, no matter the odds, and PTC's production isn't one to be missed.
Content advisory: The play contains strong language and an instance of domestic violence.
Leigh owns every Broadway musical cast recording money can buy, and she and her husband visit New York City at least once a year to see all of the new shows. Email her at [email protected].