I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing the Tony-award winning Broadway adaptation of A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time or its national tour, but word of mouth reviews focused on one thing: the spectacle. Known for its stunning visuals, those productions focused on exploring the interior of Christopher’s mind through the sensory overload that he often experiences. Instead of mimicking this much-acclaimed approach, though, Steppenwolf for Young Adults’ (SYA) season opener instead turns the spotlight on the relationship between the characters. It’s an intense focus on the particulars that sets our protagonist Christopher Boone (played by Terry Bell) apart from his family and friends; and it’s by highlighting the show’s emotional nuances that director Jonathan Berry’s bare bones production resonates.
The story, adapted from Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel of the same name, follows Christopher as he takes on the role of detective, searching for the murderer of his neighbor’s beloved dog Wellington. What begins as a battle to overcome his challenges with socializing quickly escalates to a war, as Christopher uncovers and is forced to cope with unsettling revelations about his family.
It’s in this second development, as the play begins exploring the complexities of Christopher’s relationship with his parents and their relationship with each other, where SYA’s production truly shines. As Judy Boone, the consistently impressive Rebecca Spence gives a nuanced performance that elicits both pity and frustration for her character; she’s a parent who has struggled to connect with her child and who feels constantly as if she’s disappointing him, and Spence plays this troubled love beautifully. Bells’ Christopher proves equally compelling, as we watch him struggle against a black-and-white sense of morality that makes forgiveness and understanding emotions challenging at times.And Caroline Neff, in a role as Christopher’s mentor Siobhan, brings such a genuine sense of concern, affection, and humor to her role that it’s easy to see why she acts as the voice in Christopher’s head through much of Act 1.
These strong performances carry the show, making it an enjoyable and emotional viewing experience. Though the set, at times, appeared cheap, especially compared to the scenic perfection typically seen on Steppenwolf’s main stage, the play’s emotional resonance makes up for this. This is the best Steppenwolf for Young Audiences’ production I've seen so far.
Review by Emily Schmidt
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time continues at Steppenwolf Theatre through Oct 27. Info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.
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