At its heart, The Curious Incident of the Dog and the Night-Time is a family drama. On the main stage at Virginia Rep’s November Theatre through October 14, the play is based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Marc Haddon. It was also the winner of the 2015 Tony Award for best play.
It’s the story of 15-year-old Christopher Boone (played by Michael Manocchio) and how his extraordinary brain processes the murder of a neighbor’s dog, Wellington. Although it is never revealed onstage (or in Haddon’s book), Christopher exhibits many of the behaviors associated with someone who is on the autism spectrum: he is exceptional at mathematics; he does not like being touched; he does not engage well with new people; and he has sensory-processing challenges. When he’s overwhelmed, Christopher sometimes recites prime numbers aloud for self-comfort.
The nature of Christopher’s neurodiverse wiring makes him the kind of young man who is likely to embark on a crime-solving endeavor, a la Sherlock Holmes, to discover who is responsible for Wellington’s death. Although it’s forbidden by his father (played by Joe Pabst), Christopher sets out to solve the case and chronicles his investigation in a book – the one you are hearing through expert and endearing narration provided by Christopher’s teacher, Siobhan (played by Emilie Faith Thompson). This DIY detective work ultimately takes Christopher on a journey of discovery about relationships, family, and the world around him – a journey that is funny, moving, and at times, heartbreaking.
Before the show began, my husband (who, like me, read the book and was certain we were not attending a musical when we saw the show on opening night) did a double take when he saw the phrase “choreography by Nathaniel Shaw” in the program. We briefly fleshed out what that might look like in a show like Curious Incident, and we weren’t disappointed. Unlike a straight dramatic play, the show uses its cast members to create scenery and some props – think human coat rack or ATM. The cast members also help act out some of Christopher’s aspirations and emotions. This choreography, together with the narration by Siobhan, the lighting by BJ Wilkinson, stage and scene design, and Daniel Brodie’s projection design knit the show together and help convey deep emotions around a story featuring a character who comes off as indifferent and withdrawn.
As a hardworking, exhausted-by-Friday-night kind of theatre lover, I tend to judge a play by slow points and weak links in acting. The Curious Incident of the Dog and the Night-Time has neither. Much like the novel, the play gets on your good side by framing a character who thinks and acts differently within a fairly typical setting. It’s important to remember the world is full of people like this, and perhaps even spend some time with them listening to their stories.
The Curious Incident of the Dog and the Night-Time is directed by Nathaniel Shaw and runs through October 14 at Virginia Repertory Theatre. Recommended for ages fourteen and up, I also recommend Marc Haddon’s novel for the same age group. There is some adult language in the show, but no violence – toward dogs or humans. The show runs about two-and-a-half hours with an intermission. For showtimes and tickets, visit VirginiaRep.org.