PINCKNEY, MI–Intense and captivating. This is Dio Dining + Entertainment’s current production of The curious incident of the dog in the night.
Adapted from Mark Haddon’s acclaimed best-selling novel of the same name, the story centers on 15-year-old Christopher (Austin McCoy), who is on the bright end of the wide and complex spectrum of autism. A dog was killed near his home with a pitchfork. And he sets out to try to find out who would have done such a terrible thing.
The unfolding story, however, reveals much more to Christopher than just who killed the poor dog. The boy lives with his father (Andrew Gorney). Christopher learns that his mother (Marlene Inman) lives in London in a hospital. And shortly after the play begins, she is told that she died of a heart attack. But all is not as it seems. People lie to Christopher left and right. His mathematically disciplined and relentlessly curious mind, however, is fair enough to detect these lies one by one.
Directed by Jared Schneider, with assistant direction by Rachael Cupples and technical direction, sound, stage design and lighting by Matt Tomich, the Mysterious Investigation set is perhaps the simplest set ever created by Mr. Tomich – a white backdrop with large white boxes and simple wooden boxes on which the actors can sit at different times. But as an autistic savant, Christopher likes things simple and so the colorless background and scene are meant to allow him to focus on the tasks at hand – getting questions answered.
The course of the story is derived, we learn, from the diary that Christopher keeps. And in the background of the decor on the black wall, we see sketches projected from his notebook which accompany the movement of the story. What we get is projected from Christopher’s mind.
Mr. McCoy is endearing in the lead role and has done an excellent job studying the mannerisms and body language of an autistic savant. Because the story is so relentlessly focused on what happens to him and what he learns about crime and his fractured family, the weight of the coin rests on his shoulders and he carries it very well.
Mr. Schneider has molded his supporting cast extremely well. Mr. Gorney is strong like Christopher’s father – controlling and embittered by his life and the loss of Christopher’s mother, but allowing the audience to remember that he loves his son dearly, however much the way he puts it is not always very healthy. Ms. Inman, who we usually see in a prominent singing role, nails the role of loving but frustrated mother to Christopher, and delivers a West of England accent consistently and impressively. Monica Spencer is Siobhan, Christopher’s para-professional and mentor at school. Ms. Spencer is a stable presence and does not overestimate her role, which is crucial in any production of this play.
The ensemble of Mrs. Cupples, Dan Morrison, Anne Bauman, Kelsi Fay, Dante Justice, Donovan Leary have to change hats and characters throughout the play, ranging from Mr. Morrison playing a policeman and the mother’s lover from Christopher, to Mrs. Cupples at one point playing the role of an ATM. It’s an incredibly strong cast of actors that underpins the story of the tenets and sometimes serves as sets and props. The staging is top notch.
There’s also a good moment at the end when Sandy, a seven-week-old French Bulldog puppy, is given to Christopher. Adorable.
The story is rich. And there’s an irresistible energy baked in by Christopher’s character and Mr. McCoy’s stellar performance. If there’s a fault, it’s not in the production, but rather in the script by Simon Stephens, which drags on a bit in the second half of the second act and is just waiting to be cleared up.
The main thing is that Curious incident is a captivating thread in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes. Highly recommended.