It’s all Christopher wants. He wants it more than anything. And he will stop at nothing until he gets it.
Christopher is not a law enforcement officer. He is not a vigilante. And he is not Liam Neeson in Taken I, II, III or X.
On the way home from SHNSF’s fantastic production of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,” my wife taught me a new word – perseverate. Often I chide her about the Licensed Clinical Social Work jargon she throws my way. And when she mentioned that word in regard to Christopher, it made a lot of sense.
Perseverate is defined as repeating something insistently or redundantly, often when referring to those who are on the autism spectrum. It is never clearly stated what Christopher’s diagnosis is. But what is powerful is the way he navigates through space, and navigates through people who are both confounded and charmed by him.
Hence the perseverating, which is initially motivated by a stunning image that the audience discovers upon entering the theatre, an image that caused the Golden Gate ushers to shout “NO PICTURES!” multiple times as folks settled into their chairs.
Christopher’s sleuthy ways are explored in Mark Haddon’s book of the same name, the title inspired by a line from Sherlock Holmes. While Christopher is first after the truth about his neighbor’s ill-fated pooch, his path, led by his hyper mind, runs the gamut of discoveries.
That mind, exemplified beautifully in Bunny Christie’s symbolic set, Finn Ross’ fantastic video design and Ian Dickinson’s soundscape is in constant motion. The set is a delicious combination of flashing lights, scene setting, and some stunning bells and whistles in the form of slick illusions. The technical feats that are created from Simon Stephens script help create a searing playground for director Marianne Elliott (War Horse) and choreographers Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, who keep the action moving all throughout the stage save for a few moments of drag. The small ensemble cast, who play multiple roles are scattered throughout, always present during the drama.
Christopher (an energetic and sharp performance by Adam Langdon) is an extremely specific young man, who is always in a state of fixation, motivated initially by the incident of the dog Wellington who has died a violent death. His father Ed (an awesome Gene Gillette) puts up plenty of resistance to Christopher’s newfound justice obsession, yet Ed spends so much of his time doing or saying the wrong thing, a father who has no clue how he should begin to attempt a connection with Christopher.
Christopher yet yearns for more, so he decides on an adventure to London in hopes of finding his mother Judy (beautifully embattled Felicity Jones Latta). His parents, who take their turns making completely wrong turns, are often at a loss as to how to connect. Yet his teacher Siobhan (a wonderfully warm Maria Elena Ramírez) has the right temperament to coax Christopher to write his story and allow it to be presented as a play, which becomes a play within the play.
It is really the perseverating of Christopher that give the audience the main course to consume in learning about this unique young man. Look at his obsession with building a train when the pressure of his life builds, or even his singular focus when he risks his life to save his pet rat. And in a dose of hilarity, notice how consumed he is in making sure there will be a proper punishment for the killer of Wellington.
While Siobhan certainly finds the connection in ways that others can’t, just look at the performances of the grizzled Gillette and Latta’s beaten down Judy. The inability for them to connect to Christopher is heartbreaking, and when Ed finally gets that chance through the warmth of a touch, discovered beautifully by Gillette, it is magic.
And of course, no magic can be complete without the performance of Langdon, who is tasked with getting to the heart of a character without becoming a caricature. While Christopher is a math genius who becomes obsessed with his very important tests that are upcoming, his desires to share his process are shut down yet return in a delightful, Brechtian way.
While “Curious” deals with a protagonist with a wondrous and specific mind, what stands out is that his mind is not limited, no matter how much people close to him feel he needs to be protected. And even when it might seem that Christopher’s journey may be over, don’t count it out or even leave slightly early – he’s just getting started.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
SHNSF presents the National Theatre production of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time”
Written by Simon Stephens
Directed by Marianne Elliott
Adapted from the 2003 novel by Mark Haddon
The Word: A tour de force by Langdon and a technical marvel, the show’s metaphoric journey through Christopher’s mind is loaded with powerful twists and turns.
Stars: 4.5 out of 5
SHN Golden Gate Theatre
1 Taylor Street at Market, San Francisco, CA
Through July 23rd
Tickets range from $55 – $275
For tickets, call (888) 746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com