A Broadway Triumph

Curious Incident NYT 2

 

Ever had one of those days in the city when you feel like you forgot to put your skin on? Sure you have. It happens when you haven’t slept, or you drank too much the night before, or you’ve been brooding over bad news.

All your senses, it seems, have been heightened to a painful acuity; your nerve endings are standing on guard. And every one of the manifold sights and sounds of urban life registers as a personal assault. You’re a walking target in a war zone, and that subway ride that awaits you looms like a descent into hell.

Such a state of being is conjured with dazzling effectiveness in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” which opened on Sunday night at the Ethel Barrymore Theater. Adapted by Simon Stephens from Mark Haddon’s best-selling 2003 novel about an autistic boy’s coming-of-age, this is one of the most fully immersive works ever to wallop Broadway.

So be prepared to have all your emotional and sensory buttons pushed, including a few you may have not known existed. As directed by Marianne Elliott (a Tony winner for the genius tear-jerker “War Horse”), with a production that retunes the way you see and hear, “Curious Incident” can be shamelessly manipulative.

But more than any mainstream theater production I know, it forces you to adopt, wholesale, the point of view of someone with whom you may initially feel you have little in common. That’s Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old mathematical genius for whom walking down the street or holding a conversation is a herculean challenge.

Played by the recent Julliard school graduate Alex Sharp, in the kind of smashing Broadway debut young actors classically dream about, Christopher is in some ways a parent’s nightmare. He hates being touched, is bewildered by the common clichés of small talk and is sent into cataclysmic tantrums by any violation of his rigidly ritualized world.

But he has a distinct advantage over most of us, and he knows it. “I see everything,” he says, while looking out the window during the first train ride of his life. “Most other people are lazy.

“They never look at everything,” he continues. “They do what is called glancing, which is the same word for bumping off something and carrying on in almost the same direction.” The pulsating show that surrounds him insists that we feel as fully as possible both the privilege and the penalty of seeing everything.

Mr. Haddon’s novel is written in the first person, and translating a subjective point of view into external reality is always tricky. As we follow Christopher’s attempts to solve a local mystery — the murder of the dog next door — Mr. Stephens employs an assortment of narrative devices to keep us within his mind.

 

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