BareStage Productions’ rendition of the play “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” was a shining example of the beauty of stripped-back theater.
While previous productions of Simon Stephens’ play relied heavily on indulgent sound and visuals, director Veronica Haug demonstrated that these elements are not necessary to create a captivating performance. In the director’s note, Haug pointed out the irony that surrounds typical productions of the play, which is traditionally staged within what is essentially a giant flashing box, whose walls are constantly illuminated by ever-changing visuals. While this may be an effective way to portray the experience of the neurodivergent protagonist by showcasing the overstimulating nature of the world, it renders such productions inaccessible for neurodivergent members of the audience.
Therefore, Haug decided to dramatically reduce the lighting and audio aspect of the play, stating, “With the use of color-changing lights that move at a more absorbable pace along with classical music, I hope that we are able to bring you into Christopher’s world without isolating audience members.”
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” a play based on the novel by Mark Haddon, tells the story of Christopher Boone (Dylan Crump), a 15-year-old boy with autism who is trying to solve the mystery of who murdered his neighbor’s dog. Accompanied by his pet rat named Toby, Christopher meets a range of characters on his escapades around Swindon and London, including an old lady serving Sporty Spice realness (Leila DeMoss) and an R-rated sock puppeteer (Ryan Gottschalk).
Full of emotion and peppered with pockets of humor, the story portrays Christopher’s turbulent relationship with both his parents and the world around him. Considering that the role of Christopher is incredibly difficult to execute — requiring the replication of disability — Crump did an admirable job of capturing the character. His performance was believable and accurate without being exploitative, even during the sometimes difficult-to-watch scenes in which Christopher experiences breakdowns.
One of the greatest successes of this student-run production was its staging, which took full advantage of the limited space. Instead of using props, the ensemble cast acted out different objects, such as cabinets, ATM machines and microwaves. This not only added an additional element of humor, but it also allowed the set to be in perpetual movement, constantly shifting and transforming around Christopher as he moved through the space.
It was mesmerizing to watch the cast members seamlessly transition from being a police officer one minute to a coat hanger the next; this dynamic human set served as an enthralling replacement for intense lighting and visuals. The only flaw was that this aspect was slightly abandoned in the second act, which made the pace slow towards the end.
Praise must be given to all the cast members for maintaining a British accent throughout the entire performance. Some accents were more successful than others, but overall, the cast nailed what is a difficult accent to replicate.
Most of the character portrayals were spot-on, such as Aliya Haas Blinman’s excellent rendition of the lovable middle-class London mom Judy and Emily Nightingale’s angelic embodiment of Christopher’s teacher Siobhan. However, a few characters needed a little more development, such as Christopher’s mom Edie Boone (Martha Ward). Although Ward’s performance was fantastic, perfectly displaying the difficult connection between Christopher and herself, it was restricted by the fact that the character’s gender had been changed from the original Ed Boone, Christopher’s father. This change worked to normalize the depiction of queer relationships on stage, but the production did not take full advantage of the opportunity to create a new and more nuanced character. All that was changed was the character’s name; these new gender dynamics had no impact on the character’s behavior.
Overall, this intimate and creative rendition of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” was well executed and attentive considering its challenging topic. Its lack of dramatic staging and production allowed for the acting to be fully showcased, making for an impressive student-run performance.