Friday, February 14, 2020

Cloverdale Playhouse: "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time"

To inaugurate their 9th Season -- "Seeing Through Different Eyes" --  the Cloverdale Playhouse has chosen the multi-award-winning The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, a remarkable stage adaptation by Simon Stephens of Mark Hadddon's novel. Opening night sold out performance of this not to be missed production provided ample evidence of the increasingly high quality productions at the Playhouse.

Staged as a kind of play-within-a-play, The Curious Incident...  is narrated by Siobhan [Kacey Walton], a teacher/mentor using the voice of the central character Christopher Boone [Piper Doyle], a self-described "mathematician with some behavioral difficulties" [read: Asperger's, high functioning autism, etc.]; he comes from a broken home, always tells the truth, can't abide being touched, does not comprehend metaphors, has few if any social skills, counts using prime numbers, and goes nowhere without adult supervision.

The play invites audiences to "see the world as Christopher does" when he discovers a neighbor's dog killed with a pitchfork and determines to investigate on his own to find the culprit.  -- As Christopher puzzles his way, he also unearths many secrets in his family and neighborhood, learns how to maneuver in the larger world around him, is taught that one's actions have consequences, and realizes that love is often made meaningful through sacrifices and compromise.

Mr. Stephens's script shows how incomprehensible Christopher is to many people. The  solid performances by ensemble actors playing multiple roles: strangers who find him intriguing or frightening keep their distance, neighbors try to help but don't know how, and parents [Christopher Roquemore and Sarah Worley] whose frustrations with each other and with him cause outbursts that threaten their well-being -- all challenge audiences to put themselves in their places: to "see through different eyes".

Ms. Doyle carries the show on her most capable shoulders; she is hardly ever off-stage, and is the center of virtually all the action. Her commitment never falters; her mannerisms and vocal interpretations adeptly reflect Christopher's psychological condition; her generosity with actors she shares the stage with is admirable. It is a mesmerizing and professionally nuanced performance that signals future success in theatre.

Yet, the Playhouse production would not be as successful as it is without another "star": the brilliant design elements that reflect Christopher's state of mind and manipulate every moment. -- Director-technical director-set designer J. Scott Grinstead, along with lighting by Mike Winkelman, sound by James Treadway, and videos and projections by a team including Clyde Hancock, Christopher Roquemore, and Kodi Robertson, collaborate on the sophisticated production elements that dazzle the eye and ear as they punctuate the action with ever-increasing inventiveness and intensity, and let us "see more clearly through different eyes". This is theatricality at its best, a seamlessly integral component of a challenging play.

There are minor articulation issues and inconsistent English dialects, and actors sometimes step out of the light so their faces are obscured, but these should be remedied as the company settles into the run of the show.

Laudably, the Playhouse has connected with "Easterseals" to advocate for education and intervention for people in need of autism services, and with the "Montgomery Humane Society" [there is an adoptable live puppy on-stage for each performance].

With its mixture of humor and pathos, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time challenges all of us to "see through different eyes".