Horizon Theatre and Aurora Theatre are co-presenting a production of Simon Stephens’ “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” currently running at Horizon Theatre. In January, the play moves to Lawrenceville’s Aurora Theatre. The show is co-directed by Horizon’s Lisa Adler and Aurora’s Justin Anderson, with guest artist movement director Roger Ellis. “A Curious Incident” runs at Horizon through Oct. 27.
The play is based on Mark Haddon’s much-lauded 2003 mystery novel. The title refers to an observation that fictional detective Sherlock Holmes once made. The play won seven Oliver Awards (for London’s West End) and five Tony Awards, including Best Play. So it descends on Little Five Points’ Horizon with quite a stellar reputation.
The novel is narrated in first person by Christopher (Brandon Michael Mayes, in perhaps the most remarkable Atlanta debut I have ever witnessed), a 15-year-old boy who describes himself as “a mathematician with some behavioral difficulties.” He is somewhere in what is called the “autism spectrum”; this includes the Asperger syndrome (a social interaction disorder), high functioning autism (HFA), and savant syndrome. What a lot of categories we humans love to put people in!
But the novelist says, “It’s a book about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising, revealing way.” This could include quite a few people (maybe you and me); perhaps Christopher is not quite the rara avis we would like to believe. However, he definitely has challenges.
A dog named Wellington is murdered in Swindon, England; speared by a garden fork. Christopher discovers the body. Mrs. Shears (Yvonne Miranda Singh), the dog’s owner, calls the police; Christopher is under suspicion. Although he is found guiltless, Christopher decides to turn detective and records his adventures in a book he calls “a murder mystery novel.” His father Ed (Christopher Hampton), with whom Christopher lives, discourages his son from snooping around. Ed has explained to him that his mother died two years ago.
The elderly Mrs. Alexander (Lala Cochran) tells Christopher that his mother had a lengthy affair with Mr. Shears (Jimi Kocina). Then Christopher discovers a trove of letters that his mother had written him; evidently his father has hidden them. This is serious business. Who is a 15-year-old boy with severely impaired social skills supposed to trust? Perhaps his best confidante is his school counselor Siobhan (Candy McLellan). Brian Kurlander, like the other actors except Mr. Mayes (Christopher), very ably plays multiple roles.
When Christopher discovers his mother’s whereabouts in London, he decides to go there. Remember his autistic sensibilities: He can’t bear to be touched; high sensory overload, and above all, a super-sensitive brain which understands exquisitely just how non-normative he is. So his trip to London is an act of extraordinary courage.
I haven’t mentioned the magical realism (we’ll call it) the play uses. The actors become everything from objects to animals. And the projections! I’ve never seen anything like them at Horizon; hats off to Milton Cordero, who designed them. In a sense we see the whole universe, at least as perceived by Christopher. Also kudos to Mary Parker’s lighting design, and Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay’s scenic design. Directors Adler and Anderson have called in their A-team.
Now—about Brandon Michael Hayes’ performance as Christopher. It is with considerable awe that I tell you that the entire evening rests on his shoulders, despite all the elaborate trappings around him. He burns energy like the sun; he’s hardly ever offstage. I got out of breath just watching him. He’s a major talent; I can’t wait to see him do other roles.
The play forces him to perform very often near the top of his emotional range; that’s the way it’s written. But it’s sometimes almost painful to watch; yet you can’t look away. He’s acting with a stage full of experienced professionals, but it takes nothing from them to say that they are all riding on his coattails—as is the audience.
Be advised that “A Curious Incident” is not a casual evening. It’s intensely theatrical in a way you rarely experience, and that’s a good thing—otherwise theatre staffs would have to furnish tranquilizers.
I can’t reveal any more plot, but it’s obvious that we are dealing with a story about the triumph of the human spirit. And even though at two and half hours a hair long, I can think of no good reason why you should miss it.
For tickets and information, visit Horizontheatre.com.