by Beki Pineda
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME – Written by Simon Stephens; Directed by Stephen Weitz. Produced by Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (presented at the Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut) through May 20. Tickets available at 303-444-7328 or betc.org.
There are some shows that depend on the spectacular – ALADDIN, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, HELLO DOLLY, PETER PAN – to achieve their goals in story-telling. Others revel in their simplicity – CHORUS LINE, PETER AND THE STARCATCHER, OUR TOWN, and now CURIOUS INCIDENT. But you’d never know that until you saw the current BETC production. The Broadway show that came through Denver last year awed with its technical prowess. The flashing lights, projected maps, surprising drawers of props and special effects created a visual and aural treat but subsumed the story. The current production tells the story of a family in conflict in straightforward and touching ways while still reflecting the mental processes of an autistic teenager through meaningful – but not overwhelming – visual effects.
Because the balance between the technical and the artistic is so well constructed in this production, extra credit must be given to Director Stephen Weitz and his technical team who created the smaller, more intimate process. Tina Anderson created a set that included cleverly placed projection screens that simultaneously closed in and opened up the playing space. Her highly versatile triangular shaped blocks were used as ticket counters, beds, seats, a train . . . everything the play needed. The projections designed by the brilliant Brian Freeland paired with the mesmerizing sound effects by Jonathan Howard combined to reflect our hero’s mental state of mind and physical journey with clarity. The use of breezes blowing through trees to create tranquility are juxtaposed with red marble-like visuals and screeching fingernails-on-blackboard noises to create fear and chaos. All of this was reinforced by the lighting design by Colin Young illuminating and adding excitement to the stage pictures.
As brilliant as the concepts are, once designed and put in place, they still need the skills of the performance artists who bring them life night after night with precision and confidence. Stage Manager Stacy Norwood calls the show, giving the cues for action to her board operators Dana Nelson and Melissa Michelson. This threesome working in a triangular tandem create the visual world of Christopher with unerring timing and skill.
However, the bottom line is that all these technical enhancements do is create an environment for Christopher Boone, an emotionally challenged teenager caught in a hive of secrets that unravel too quickly. Because his neighbor’s dog is mysteriously killed with a garden fork, Christopher undertakes to solve the mystery of who did it. He writes down his theories and discoveries to show to his teacher Siobhan. In the course of his investigations, he accidentally uncovers a secret his father has kept from him and undertakes a perilous – for him – journey to London to discover the truth.
BETC is blessed in finding Alex Rosenthal to create the difficult role of Christopher. The character’s instinctive honesty is given a guileless portrayal by Alex. His body inhabits the shambling inconsistency of gait and barely controlled hand and arm movements we associate with our challenged brethren. Looking other actors in the eyes on stage is how they communicate with one another. Alex managed the extremely difficult task of rarely looking anyone directly in the eyes. Even in the most touching moments with this father and mother, his shoulders are hunched and his glances are sidelong. Alex’s comprehension of his character is never more visible than in his train journey to London as he tries to walk on a moving train. How many of us have not stumbled on a moving vehicle? How many of us have tried to mimic that sense of uncertainty when the floor was NOT moving below us?? If, as he says, “Acting is a kind of like a lie,” Alex is a brilliant liar.
Christopher’s anguished but understanding parents are played with grace and honesty by Michael Morgan and Karen LaMoureaux. Their personal difficulties – no doubt at least partially created by the stress of raising Christopher – proves overwhelming for the marriage – but not for their performances. Both give tender touching portrayals of loving parents caught in a difficult situation.
These three are backed by Anastasia Davidson as Siobhan, friend and understanding teacher of Christopher, the only one who doesn’t seem to be intimidated by his difficulties. She also narrates Christopher’s story as he has written it. A Greek chorus of players – Billie McBride, Mackenzie Beyer, Sam Gilstrap, Sean Michael Cummings, Lois Shih and Warren Sherrill – step up to become the other characters important to Christopher’s story. Each gets their bit to add as neighbors, policemen and people he meets on his journey.
BETC continues to add to its reputation as the theatre to have on your resume if you want to be taken seriously as a Colorado actor with this well constructed and excellently acted production.
A WOW factor of 9!!