The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon's bestselling 2003 murder mystery novel, doesn't seem like a contender for the stage.
It is told from the perspective of Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old whizkid with autism who describes himself as "a mathematician with some behavioral difficulties." This highly sensory, first-person narrative captures the complexities of his condition, such as tantrums from being touched, not comprehending figures of speech and an overall disconnect from people he encounters.
Sounds like a tall order for a play, but Simon Stephen's heartfelt 2012 adaptation rises to the challenge (touting a 2015 Tony Award for Best Play to prove it). Like Christopher's medical condition, Curious Incident succeeds by approaching the script and stage in unexpected ways.
Presented by BBVA Broadway at the Hobby Center and directed by Marianne Elliott, the play begins with Christopher, played by Adam Langdon, crying next to his neighbor's dead poodle Wellington with a garden fork protruding from its stomach. He says he didn't kill the dog. And it's true—Christopher never lies.
Audiences observe a simple, cube-shaped stage that resembles a grid from geometry class. Designed by Bunny Christie, it's clear that the three-dimensional set is a pivotal tool—if not a character—used to visualize the unique thought processes of Christopher. Using light, motion and sound, the interactive walls illuminate his straight-forward observations and occasional chaos.
Another storytelling tool Stephen incorporates into the play was narration by Christopher's teacher Siobhan, played by Maria Elena Ramirez. Throughout the performance, she reads from Christopher's "book," a collection of diary entries he wrote for school. As Siobhan's recites Christopher's experiences aloud, he performs them in real time, adding an additional layer of sensory storytelling to the production.
Throughout the two-act play, Christopher embarks on a coming-of-age adventure to discover who murdered Wellington. In doing so, he also solves some not so black-and-white mysteries surrounding his family, like the sudden departure of his mother, played by Felicity Jones Latta, and secrets of his father, played by Gene Gillette.
The entire play is an emotional and sensory bombardment in the best possible way. Christopher is the underdog—from his debilitating condition to his dysfunctional family life, both of which he can't control—but through his tenacious efforts as told through Haddon and Stephen’s thought-provoking works, it's a heartwarming, empathetic experience that reminds us why we go to the theater in the first place.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Thru Jan 29. From $30. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby St. 713-315-2400. thehobbycenter.org