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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Howls at BCT

The celebrated play features exceptional acting and outstanding set design


Christopher's story begins in a rather terrifying place, with him crouched over a dog, Wellington, that has been gored by a pitchfork. Soon, others join him: the dog's owner, Mrs. Shears (Marissa Price); and a policeman (Mason Clark). Suspicion falls on Christopher, but he's quickly discounted as a suspect in the dog's death. Audiences watching Boise Contemporary Theater's season opener, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, won't get to wipe their brows yet, however--Christopher is clearly somewhere on the autism spectrum, and the drama kicked off by Wellington's apparent murder is just getting started.

About once a season, a play staged in Boise gets everyone talking, and in the second half of 2018, Curious Incident is that play. If the City of Trees turns out for one production between now and New Year's, let this one be it. At a time when real-world virtues like caring and perseverance seem embattled, Curious Incident shows a wellspring of people's true strengths.

Christopher, played by the uncommonly talented Davey Collins, struggles to understand people, particularly how they use metaphors and nonverbal communication, but after being cleared of wrongdoing in the death of Wellington, there he is, beating the halls of the apartment complex where he lives with his father, Ed (Arthur Glen Hughes), in search of the real killer. His sleuthing—and the many awkward and humorous encounters it produces—only agitates Ed, whose decision to put the kibosh on Christopher's investigation kicks into motion a harrowing story about love, loss and forgiveness.

A stage adaptation by Simon Stephens of Mark Haddon's eponymous novel, Curious Incident is widely celebrated, and won seven Olivier awards in 2013, including Best New Play. Happily—or, just as well, stressfully—BCT's production does it great justice, featuring luminous performances and literally brilliant set design. Collins' performance as the bewildered and frightened, but also tremendously courageous, Christopher is both emotionally and physically strenuous; and there is something Jiminy Cricket-ish, if not outright angelic, about Ravin Patterson, who plays his special education instructor, Sioban.

The stage is as spare as the performance is lush. Instead of building an apartment building, school interior, train station and a small chunk of London for the play, scenic and lighting designer Rick Martin took a minimalist approach, composing a vague and geometric interior out of illuminated vertical and horizontal beams, as well as a backdrop full of cubbies, compartments and trap doors. The effect is that the audience sees the world as Christopher sees it, not as a sequence of distinct and interpretable environments, but as a dizzying cascade of inputs and vectors.

At its heart, Curious Incident is a story about growing up, and it isn't spoiling the play to say that in the end, Christopher is palpably more mature, his feet firmly on the path toward his personal and professional goals. For a young man who, an act earlier, struggled to walk across a train station, that's a huge personal journey—one audiences will keenly feel.