Exquisite stagecraft and stellar acting make for deeply-moving theatre in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.” Directed by Scott R.C Levy, the Fine Arts Centers’ season-opener runs weekends through Oct. 20 and follows the story of an autistic teen who comes under suspicion in the brutal murder of a neighbor’s dog. As local interest in finding the real culprit fades, 15-year old Christopher Boone takes on the investigation with unexpected findings that will unravel his tidy but troubled world.
Making his FAC debut, Logan Riley Bruner portrays the wispy, slump-shouldered Christopher who is intellectually gifted, but socially impaired. His speech is excessively formal, he fixates on details, cannot place situations in context and misses the bigger picture. As an actor, Bruner is seasoned beyond his years: from TV and film roles in Orange is the New Black and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to Off Broadway roles in The Home Place and Spring Awakening.
Bruner inhabits his character with the disciplined precision needed to portray Christopher. Incessantly reciting prime numbers, pacing nervously while rubbing his hands, voicing limitless intellect without ego while socially stumbling at every turn. Short on laughs, but overflowing with thoughtful introspection, The Curious Incident is a story that needs telling and a play worth seeing.
Aided by creatively diverse lighting and fluid stagecraft, patrons are periodically transported to Christopher’s world. It is a beautiful journey but regularly derailed by Christopher’s detachment and hypersensitivity. Still, he stays intent on solving the case of the slain dog and clearing his name, despite his father’s objections and growing distrust from his neighbors.
Against a minimalistic set, actors shift props as they transition through differing characters. What the dialogue does not reveal, a narrator does. Stepping in and out of the story, Elise Santora finds a balance between strong and demure. FAC audiences know her talents: Santora recently received the Henry award for outstanding actress for her lead portrayal in last season’s Anna in the Tropics.
Also an Actors’ Equity Association member, Brian Landis Folkins embodies conflict and credibility as Christopher’s troubled father, Ed, concealing a devastating truth to protect his son. Also a Henry award recipient in last season’s Church & State, Folkins envelopes the audience in his struggle: the single parent straddle of push and pull, nurturing but sometimes neglectful as he chides Christopher one minute while consoling him the next. Only late in the first act does the audience learn the family’s backstory that will launch the second act—one that rescues this sad tale from utter despair.
The ensemble are almost more dancers than actors, artfully maneuvering the stage props in crafty choreography, some without speaking roles and playing multiple characters during the narrated sequences. A well-known FAC actor, Rebecca Myers is particularly effective as the curt and critical Mrs. Shears whose role expands in the play’s subplot toward the end of the first act.
Returning to FAC from his new home in New York City, Nicholas Robert Ortiz doubles as the stoic policeman at the play’s onset, but then transitions into the ensemble. Ortiz moves with grace and agility as he and others effortlessly personify objects and situations to align with the story.
Christopher’s tale is told in equal parts voice and movement. The Curious Incident seems an almost dance-like depiction with events shared in traditional script, but also narrated and further illustrated by simple props, dramatic lighting and sound. The story’s detail and precision serve to underscore Christopher’s mental processing—a literal interpretation of language: exact and logical but without accommodation for social cues.
Adapted for the stage by Simon Stephens from the original novel by Mark Haddon, the play was first staged in 2012 and won the 2015 Tony award for Best Play. It is a testament to creativity that such a story could be staged at all: a sensitive topic and a sad story if not for its overriding themes of determination, perseverance and tolerance.
Act Two reveals a stronger Christopher, on the other side of a personal apocalypse, embracing his new realities. Coming to terms with the frailties and failings of those around him, he embarks on a new plan, works outside his comfort zone and places himself on a road to success. Along the way, he confronts and processes the nuance of acceptance and forgiveness.