‘Curious’ Broadway Hit Comes To Philadelphia
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“Today is a good day,” Christopher John Francis Boone excitedly proclaims in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The book, written by Mark Haddon, went on to become an international bestseller upon its 2003 release. In 2012, playwright Simon Stephens adapted the book for the stage to massive critical acclaim, with it going on to win seven Laurence Olivier Awards and four Tony Awards, including Best Play.
Curious Incident, both the book and the play, centers around the aforementioned Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old boy with some sort of behavioral disorder (usually ascribed to be a type of autism), investigating the mysterious death of his neighbor’s dog and learning more about his family, himself, and the world beyond his home in Swindon, Wiltshire.
The play first premiered at the Royal National Theatre in London in 2012, but it went on to be produced in West End, Tokyo, Mexico City, Seoul, and New York. The Broadway Production concluded in 2016 after about 800 performances, going on to a national tour this year. One of the stops on the tour was the Kimmel Center Academy of Music in Philadelphia, at which it played from February 28th to March 5th.
I was fortunate enough to see the play myself during that time. I was interested to see another adaptation of the story, having thoroughly enjoyed the book and seen a recorded television broadcast of the West End version.
Let’s start with the casting. In the National Theatre and West End versions, Christopher was played by Luke Treadaway, whose appearance is still used in much of the promotional materials. His portrayal of Christopher was somewhat subdued, demonstrating a childlike innocence as well as a level of unique maturity.
In the US tour, Adam Langdon plays Christopher, and he very much amps up the “zaniness” factor. Every other line delivery feels like he’s trying too hard, stretching out his words and going from a normal volume to loudly excited for seemingly no reason. It can grow on the audience as the play goes on, though, as the story melds better with his acting and vice versa.
The rest of the cast are rather excellent, particularly the actors for Christopher’s teacher Siobhan (Maria Elena Ramirez) and mother Judy (Felicity Jones Latta). They really bring the necessary emotion and nuance to their roles, and all their interactions with Christopher come very naturally.
The one sore spot is Gene Gillete as Christopher’s father, Ed. His English accent sounds extremely forced, sometimes sounding slightly like an Irish accent. Also, while previous actors made Ed telling Christopher not investigate the dog’s death more withdrawn, Gillete’s portrayal turns him into an overly-loud angry man with a highly suspicious attitude.
Moving onto the content of the play, the most notable part of The Curious Incident is the amazing choreography and design. The set of the play consists of just a graph-like cube, lit up by spotlights and luminescent flooring. Any props are either taken out of hidden cabinets in the walls or substituted with all-purpose white boxes, which are used as everything from seats to luggage to countertops. This means that the play leaves a lot to the imagination. The show’s primary set-piece, for instance, is a busy train station. Using lights, projected graphics, and movements of the actors, the play is able perfectly create the feeling of the setting from the point of view of Christopher.
Speaking of which, from the perspective of someone with a similar disorder as Christopher, the play terrifically visualizes the feeling of sensory overload. I saw a lot of my younger self in Christopher (although my big no-no was change in routine, not being touched like with Christopher).
As an adaptation of the book, the play stays relatively faithful to the source material. For the sake of a reasonable runtime, most of Christopher’s diatribes about his likes and dislikes are omitted, sadly cutting the amount of Sherlock Holmes and science fiction references to a minimum. Also, there are subtle line changes (Mrs. Shears’ opening words are altered in this version, for example) and omissions, like the one joke Christopher knows (the punchline of which is that economists aren’t really scientists).
However, the rest of the play’s alterations are for the best. In the book, the story is being written and narrated by Christopher himself. In the play, Siobhan, his teacher, is reading Christopher’s book to the audience, giving her a much larger role than in the book (wherein she had a grand total of four appearances, if I recall correctly). The play itself is a play-within-a-play, with fourth wall breaks galore. For instance, the character Reverend Peters at one point remarks that he would like to play a policeman, to which Christopher tells him that he’s too old for the part. Later, the actor who plays the Reverend actually plays a policeman, and Christopher blurts out “You’re too old!” once again.
The attention to detail is superb as well. In the book, Christopher describes a man’s shirt in detail, and in the play the shirt is perfectly recreated word-for-word. Most of the lines are also lifted directly from the book, like Christopher’s (well, Siobhan’s reading of Christopher’s) opening narration. Also, in the book Christopher is told that readers wouldn’t be interested in hearing the solution to a mathematics question, so he saves it for the Appendix at the end. In the play, this serves as the finale after the curtain call, with Christopher excitedly solving the question for the audience as Adrian Sutton’s main theme (included in the Curious Incidentals soundtrack album) plays, before walking off proudly.
The one final notable change from the book are the last lines before the curtain call. In the book, Christopher says that because of his actions in the story, he can do anything. In the play, it’s a bit more somber. Christopher tells Siobhan everything he did, and then asks her if that means he can do anything. He repeats the question, but she can’t give him an answer. It’s a surprisingly uncertain ending, but I for one commend the play for it. Christopher’s future after the story can go any way the audience member feels. He could succeed at his dreams and become an astronaut, or his disability may prove too much for him and he stays where he is. An open-ended conclusion sometimes works just as well as an ending that’s sure of itself.