The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Brings Immersive Mystery to Wharton Center
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Overwhelming, immersive, futuristic, jittery, dazzling, versatile. These are just a few of the words that come to mind after seeing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time live on stage.
Based on the classic Mark Haddon novel of the same name, Curious Incident revolves around Christopher Boone, a fifteen year old boy who is exceptionally intelligent but struggles with everyday interactions and interpersonal relationships, as he attempts to solve the mystery of who killed Wellington, his neighbor’s dog. While I will refrain from spoiling the plot – it is a mystery, after all – twists and turns are plentiful in this production.
As is the case in the book, Christopher’s story is told from a first person perspective – an effect that is much harder to achieve on stage than on paper. During the first act, this is accomplished primarily by having a special education teacher read from a book that Christopher has written at her request. It becomes apparent that the events taking place on stage are not happening in real time, but rather are reenactments of the experiences written about in Christopher’s book. By the second act, however, Christopher has been convinced to allow his book to be turned into a play, leading to the occasional fourth wall break.
Beyond altering the way in which the story is portrayed by the cast, visual and auditory devices are used to put the audience inside Christopher’s head as well.
Before the show begins, the audience is greeted with what appears to be an incredibly simple set for the production; a black box with lines, resembling graph paper, drawn on it. Lying in the middle of the stage is a dog with a garden pitchfork in its side. The standard buzz fills the theatre, as guests chat with those seated around them. Then, without warning, the lights go out, replaced with a strobe light focused on the dog, as a loud sound effect – not dissimilar to those in IMAX movie trailers – silences any remaining conversations. Before long, the stage proves its versatility.
Comprised of 50 speakers placed throughout the theatre, 892 LEDs, and multiple projectors, this stage offers the most tangible form of immersion during the production. At any given time, the set reacts to Christopher’s surroundings; outlines of houses are drawn behind him as he goes door to door to look for clues, lights pulse when others touch him (one of his triggers), and train stations fly by as he awaits his stop. When there are quieter moments, the stage can be drawn on like a chalkboard, and individual boxes open to reveal a seemingly endless stash of props for the actors to use.
Throughout the show, several cast members line the perimeter of the stage, sitting on boxes in a manner reminiscent of Westworld hosts called out of the park for diagnostics. Each actor has multiple roles in the production, and frequently turn into human chameleons, helping Christopher to walk on walls or lean back just far enough to stare at the stars.
Telling the story from Christopher’s point of view requires attendees to leave their biases at the door, forcing the audience to see things from a perspective that is often the opposite of what they would if they were analyzing the play objectively. Serious themes of adultery and murder of a dog come off as muted, while everyday interactions and events, like a walk down the street, are displayed as the closest visual representation to panic attacks possible.
“I see everything. Most other people are lazy. They never look at everything,” Christopher says, peering out a train window. “They do what is called glancing, which is the same word for bumping off something and carrying on in almost the same direction.”
Indeed, Christopher sees everything. And thanks to the unique ways in which the two and a half hour show tells Christopher’s story in the first person, so too does the audience. While it is difficult to pull off the first person storytelling effect in live theatre, the level of immersion that results is unparalleled.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time plays The Wharton Center through Sunday, April 16. Complete showtimes and ticketing information can be found here.
Andrew Roth is a third year staff member of The Blazer, and is the current Production Manager. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @andrewr727, send him an email at [email protected], and view his other articles here.