A Most Unique Perspective

A teenager on the autism spectrum decides to investigate the murder of his neighbor’s dog.  His investigation leads to the discovery of an even weightier mystery and his investigation into that case may lead those closest to him to a remarkable discovery about him.  This is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time adapted by Simon Stephens from Mark Haddon’s novel and is playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

To be up front, this is not a play about autism.  This is a play about family, trust, and love whose central character just happens to be on the autism spectrum (likely Asperger’s Syndrome).  I haven’t read the novel though, from the play, I suspect the book is also told from the point of view of the central character, Christopher Boone.  As such, Stephens’ adaptation creates one of the most original plays I have ever seen.  Not only is it a rock solid story, but it also allows the audience to vividly see just how Christopher processes information through writing and truly innovative staging that bring his internal processes to life.

Kimberly Faith Hickman has worked wonders with the show.  Her direction is nimble and nuanced.  Her cast virtually flawless.  But the real key to this show is its staging so the audience is able to see things through Christopher’s eyes.  Rest assured, Ms Hickman hits the bullseye with her staging through the use of silhouetted voices as Christopher recalls memories;  through the cast carrying Christopher around and flipping him over as he imagines himself an astronaut; through the duality of Siobhan reading about Christopher’s experiences while we watch Christopher living the experiences and see exactly how he behaved and reacted.

The supporting cast is exceptional and admirably fills out the people Christopher runs across in his adventures as well as the voices of memory inside his head.  Exemplary performances came from Julie Fitzgerald Ryan as Siobhan, Christopher’s teacher and, arguably, one true friend who encourages his writing and helps him better cope with the rules of society; Daniel Luethke as a pair of kindly policemen who try to help Christopher and a friendly reverend whose faith butts heads with Christopher’s logic and atheism; and Silvia Conley as the motherly Mrs. Alexander who attempts to befriend Christopher and ends up providing crucial clues that lead Christopher to an even deeper mystery than the death of his neighbor’s dog.

The role of Christopher Boone is a meaty, difficult part to play.  Due to its level of challenge, it is often played by young adults pretending to be the 15 year old.  That being said, Kimberly Faith Hickman played a gamble casting the 12 year old Dominic Torres in the role.  That gamble hits the jackpot.

Torres rises to the challenge of this arduous part and nails the characterization to the floor.  The character has similar traits and qualities to Sherlock Holmes to whom the play’s title subtly references.  Like Holmes, Christopher has genius level intellect, a keen eye for detail, and a rude, unfriendly nature.

Torres imbues all of these qualities into his character as well as having a solid grip on the tics and behavior patterns of a person with Asperger’s Syndrome such as his lack of eye contact with people, the blank facial expressions, the awkward poses he assumes with his hands and legs, the monotone quality to his voice, and the inability to articulate frustration.  He possesses an excellent sense of timing and handled the difficult wordplay well.  He just needs to slow down his rate of speech so chunks of dialogue are not lost.

Mike Palmreuter gives a weighty performance as Ed Boone, Christopher’s father.  Palmreuter well communicates the difficulties of a single father raising a son with special needs.  He clearly loves Christopher and has well adapted to his son’s needs such as touching fingers instead of hugs due to Christopher’s dislike of being touched.  But he also displays a lot of doubt as to Christopher’s ability to function in society as he tries to dissuade him from his investigation into the dog’s death and worries when he must leave Christopher alone.  Palmreuter’s slumped posture says more about the weight on his shoulders more than the wonderful dialogue he speaks.

Kerri Forrester provides a good yang to Palmreuter’s yin.  As Christopher’s mother, Judy, Ms Forrester’s body language communicates a longing that Christopher was like other children.  She clearly wants to be able to hug Christopher and hold his hand, but will never experience that joy due to Christopher’s different way of living.  Ms Forrester’s eyes have a deep sadness to them when she realizes that she will never be able to make the emotional breakthroughs that her husband has when it comes to parenting Christopher.

Steven Williams and Chris Wood team up for a deceptively simple looking set that is a boxed grid, but pulses with lights and colors to express scene changes and emotional beats.  Jay Hanson and John Gibilisco join forces for a little music and sound effects from the zapping effects of the flashing lights to the light dings as the background lights assume new Tetris shapes to the crowd noises of subway and railroad stations.  Lindsey Pape’s costumes convey the blue collar nature of the Boone family as well as Christopher’s fixations with the nearly identical clothes he wears and the everyday outfits of the everyday people in the show.

As I said earlier, this is not a story about a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome.  It’s a story about family and, truly, about seeing things from a different point of view.  I think the best way to sum up this play is from a Sherlock Holmes quotation, “Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing.  It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing. . .to something entirely different.”

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Feb 10.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $28.  For tickets, contact the OCP box office at 402-553-0800 or visit www.ticketomaha.com.  Due to adult language, this show is not recommended for children.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

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