Arts & Culture

Review: ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’

By Sarah Hanson, Contributor

Mixed Blood Theater, located down the road from Augsburg, has a reputation for producing socially important works. Their mission statement includes a dedication to “pluralism in pursuit of interconnections, shared humanity, and engaged citizenry,” and their decision to perform “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” embraced these values.

The play, based on the novel by Mark Haddon, revolves around 15-year-old Christopher, a young mathematician who, although never expressly stated in the play, has autism. When a neighbor’s dog is mysteriously murdered, Christopher decides to put his detective skills to work in an attempt to find out who committed the crime. In doing so, he uncovers hidden secrets within his own life.

MacGregor Arney played Christopher with dignity, through a beautifully consistent, nuanced physicality and raw emotion. Arney drew on a few distinct characteristics that people with autism can possess, including a lack of eye contact, hand flapping and gentle rocking. These movements and characteristics were completed without making Christopher a caricature. Arney portrayed the charm, wit and intellect of Christopher’s character while tackling the difficult moments of overstimulation, breakdowns and anger very honestly. His leading performance undeniably made the show as enjoyable, and sometimes heart-wrenching, as it was.

There were some storytelling elements that that were portrayed confusingly. The play itself begins with Christopher’s teacher Siobhan reading a book written by Christopher, acting as a parallel to the way in which Mark Haddon wrote the original story.

Christopher works with Siobhan to adapt the book to perform at his school, causing the story to become a play within a play. These elements are not incorporated very smoothly, however. It felt as though these structures served to throw in a few jokes which ultimately led to some tonal inconsistencies and an unclear boundary between the show itself and the play Christopher was writing. Although this is a relatively minor problem in the grand scheme of the story, it worked in tandem with the other tonal inconsistencies and distractions.

Technically, there were some aspects that were really enjoyable and some that fell flat. The set was simple with a few pieces of furniture supplemented with geometric and abstract projections on the back wall of the stage. An effective technical element within the production was when Christopher was in an over-stimulating situation; the lights changed quickly and the sound increased, forcing the audience to experience the situation the way Christopher does.

A less effective element of the production was the way in which the show accomplished scene transitions. Transitions were accompanied with loud music and bright projections, and although they were done quickly, they happened very frequently, especially throughout the second act. There were moments where intensely emotional scenes would reach their climax, and a scene transition would quickly interrupt the audience from processing what was happening with upbeat and tonally inconsistent music.

These issues ultimately did not tarnish the experience of the show and the story as a whole, but rather acted as blemishes on an incredible experience. The acting was excellent, especially from MacGregor Arney (Christopher) and Zack Myers, who played the emotionally complex role of Christopher’s father. With a few storytelling and tonal problems aside, it was a very enjoyable experience, and a show that highlighted the highs and lows of life through a perspective that is not frequently given the spotlight. A beautiful telling of a beautiful story.

This article first appeared in the Friday, December 15, 2017, Edition of The Echo.