The latest production at Farmers Alley Theatre in Kalamazoo is “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,” based on the novel by Mark Haddon. WMUK’s Gordon Bolar has this review.
Occasionally, one witnesses a production that successfully combines all of the creative elements available in the theater to tell a story that is unique and unforgettable. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” is one such production. This show fills the intimate confines of Farmers Alley with sound, lights, movement, and superb acting performances to take us inside the mind of Christopher Boone, a fifteen-year-old school boy mathematician in Swindon, England.
What makes this story so interesting are Christopher’s abilities and his behavioral difficulties, not unlike some of the traits experienced by persons on the autism spectrum.
Because Christopher’s condition at times complicates, and at times assists, his efforts to overcome challenges in his life, his difficulties are not played as a curse. Instead, Christopher plays the hand that life has dealt him and solves the mystery of who killed a neighbor’s dog, finds his way to his mother’s home through crowded London streets, and calms his mind to pass his A Level Math exam at school with flying colors.
Not the least of Christopher’s challenges is reconciling his world with that of family members, neighbors, and authority figures who vent their anger on this fragile young man. Troy Hussmann, as Christopher, presents a character we can root for as he struggles for focus and clarity amid the cacophony of a crowded subway or the loud arguments of his parents.
There’s much to like in Hussmann’s portrayal of Christopher’s innocent and curious nature. While asking a preacher where in the universe heaven is, he searches for it on his back, looking at the stars. As he avoids eye contact with his teacher, he questions the use of metaphors such as “the apple of one’s eye”. Since it is not in his nature to be untruthful, he can neither understand nor trust those who lie to him.
Although he portrays Christopher in a sympathetic manner, Hussmann also reveals the confusion that plagues this character when sensory stimulation becomes too much to process. In these moments, often difficult to watch, we see Huffmann doubled over on the floor in nauseous agony or lapsing helplessly into gut-wrenching wails and sobs that take us to the edge of Christopher’s worst fears while he compulsively twists and untwists the drawstring of his hoodie.
A key to the telling of this story is the steady narrative voice provided by Tory Mastos, Christopher’s teacher, who reads Christopher’s autobiographical book aloud to the audience. Mastos is a welcome intermediary as she describes Christopher’s life objectively and takes us with her as she helps her student navigate a jumbled emotional landscape.
Jeremy Koch and Tina Gluschenko, as Christopher’s conflicted parents, present characters who struggle to maintain emotional stability as they deal with their son’s condition. Koch, as Christopher’s father, vacillates between tenderness and brute force as he guides Christopher through a world that he himself can barely cope with. Gluschenko, his mother, initially leaves the home of her estranged husband, then musters backbone as she returns to defend her son.
Director J. Scott Lapp endows this production with the capacity to amaze and the energy that keeps it moving forward. He uses the flexible talents of ensemble members who serve as neighbors, strangers, policemen, or as objects such as doors, turn styles, or cash machines that Christopher encounters.
Chelsea Nicole Lapp’s fluid choreography provides appropriate rhythm, pace, timing, and style for the ensemble’s movement and pantomimic business.
The lighting, sound design, original music, and other technical elements create stunning spectacles and soundscapes that evoke a walk in space, a subway ride, or an oncoming train. While these elements suggest stimuli that are often too much for Christopher, the audience never feels threatened or overwhelmed.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is not so much a mystery about who killed the dog referenced in the title, or even why. The real mystery here is a human mind capable of holding the abject terror of sensory overload, and at the same time, the mathematics that explain our universe.