The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: A Sensory Whirlwind of a Mystery Tale

by Eve Richter Dinnan on February 7, 2018 in Entertainment, Theatre, Living Texas, Austin,

“The end result is a fast-paced whirlwind of a ride.”

Zach Scott’s production of the 2015 Tony award winner for best play, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” is an immersive experience into the mind of 15-year old Christopher Boone, portrayed with delicacy and humor by Preston Straus.

The story opens with the mysterious murder of a neighbor’s dog, which is initially blamed on Christopher. In the manner of Sherlock Holmes, the boy embarks on a journey to solve the mystery, keeping notes of his investigation in a book. This book becomes a central visual element of the show, as well as the central storytelling device, alternately narrated by Christopher himself and his teacher/life coach, Siobhan (Katie Kohler). Through his sessions with Siobhan, we follow along as he learns coping mechanisms and life skills which will assist him on his journey.

Preston Straus in A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at ZACH Theatre. Photo Kirk Tuck

The balance of the cast fills out the universe of adults inhabiting Christopher’s own universe, both in the present and the past (through reenacted memories). Central to his life are his parents (Nick Stevenson and Meredith McCall), flawed people making often flawed decisions, doing the best they can for themselves and their son. Christopher’s investigation uncovers far more than the identity of the killer, as layer upon layer of betrayal is peeled away to reveal often painful truths. As a result, he must rewrite the story of his life as he knew it. These revelations lead him to take control of his own life in a way that most of the adults in his life believe (and tell him) he cannot.

A recurring theme throughout the play is the use of origami molecules, which are made into paper lanterns Christopher hangs from a light sculpture to form a constellation of stars. Photo Kirk Tuck

A recurring theme throughout the play is the use of origami molecules, which are made into paper lanterns Christopher hangs from a light sculpture to form a constellation of stars. With aspirations of becoming an astronaut, Christopher finds some peace by symbolically creating order from chaos, something which proves much harder to do in the real world.

The production utilizes an array of physical and digital effects intended to give the viewer a glimpse into Christopher’s unusual mind, and to experience firsthand some of the sensory overload, confusion, and coping mechanisms he employs to navigate life, and move beyond his comfort zone into new territories and experiences. The talented cast members portray multiple characters as well as physical illustrations brought to life from the story, in an effective and often humorous way. Light and sound bounce and echo throughout the theater, creating a full sensory experience. The lighthearted moments help relieve some of the tension from what can be at times a fraught and emotional journey. While Christopher may not experience emotion in the way you and I do, he feels deeply betrayal, fear, confusion, and disappointment.

(L to R) Meredith McCall and Preston Straus in A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at ZACH Theatre. Photo Kirk Tuck

The fun staging and moments of lightness and humor combine to make a difficult journey somewhat easier. We are given permission to laugh and get a bit of distance from some of the more upsetting revelations along the way. The cast do an outstanding job of portraying multiple characters, fluidly moving set and scenery throughout the show, seamlessly providing both backdrop and character (sometimes at the same time). The end result is a fast-paced whirlwind of a ride.

Christopher is ultimately optimistic about his future, and believes he can accomplish anything. But the final question he poses leaves us to draw our own conclusions, in a way that I experienced as bittersweet. I also was not completely comfortable with the way some of the more horrifying revelations were ultimately glossed over, and all was forgiven through (admittedly adorable) acts of contrition. But that discomfort is probably emblematic of the challenges we all face in our lives. Sometimes we must forgive and move on, allowing the people in our lives the redemption they seek.

The production utilizes an array of physical and digital effects intended to give the viewer a glimpse into Christopher’s unusual mind. Photo Kirk Tuck

Based on overheard chatter and the reaction of the crowd (which appeared to be sellout on Saturday night), this production is clearly a winner with audiences. I also enjoyed the show, particularly the opportunity to learn more about what is an often misunderstood condition. I have many friends with children on the spectrum, and have encouraged them to see the show (perhaps with their children). A sensory friendly matinee performance is available on February 24th, with attendees on the spectrum in mind.

Be sure to stay in your seats after curtain call (which enjoyed a rousing standing ovation from an enthusiastic full house crowd on Saturday night) for a fun postscript to the show.

Special Events in celebration of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time:

  • Wednesday Post-Show Discussion – Wednesday, February 7
  • ASL Interpreted, Open Captioned, and Audio Described – Wednesday, February 7
  • Champagne Opening – Thursday, February 8
  • Sensory Friendly Matinee Performance – Saturday, February 24

Tickets start at $25  | Feb. 7-Mar. 4 | Age Recommendation: Ten & up for some strong language | Run time: Two hours 35 min

Cover photo Kirk Tuck