The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time begins with a dead dog. While the death of the dog takes place before the play begins, it is the dog’s death that propels the action of this play. Upon discovering the unfortunate corpse of the dog, a young boy Christopher (Dominic Torres) decides that he will solve this murder. This is challenging for many reasons. First, the boy is young and has been told repeatedly by the owner of the dog and his father to leave the mystery alone. Second, the boy is autistic and that means he struggles with talking to strangers and he is limited in his ability to interact with unfamiliar social situations. Nevertheless, he decides he will find out who killed Mrs. Shears’ dog and he does just that.
The play is based on the novel of the same name and was adapted by Simon Stephens in 2012. Since then it has been produced in London and New York and toured the country. This production, at the Omaha Community Playhouse, is directed by Kimberly Faith Hickman. She has done a fine job navigating all the nuances of this bittersweet story and bringing out what truly matters in the story. The original novel is written in the voice of Christopher as a story that he writes for school. You can read his thoughts and therefore know why he makes certain choices. The play has kept that premise and uses his teacher, Siobhan (Julie Fitzgerald Ryan), as the omniscient narrator and confidant for Christopher. This allows the audience to see what is going on in Christopher’s head without creating conversations between characters that don’t exist in the book. This mostly works for the adaptation; there are only a few places where this choice, in the script, feels a little clunky.
But small little missteps in the script don’t detract from the overall pleasure of this play. While you will find out who killed the dog, (and so much more!) it’s Christopher’s growth that really matters. This production chooses to focus on these integral moments of Christopher’s making them feel richer and deeper as you contemplate where he started at the beginning of this play and where he ends up. There are moments of fear, loneliness, utter despair, comfort and happiness all linked together to create the web of Christopher’s journey. Almost all of the actors must play multiple roles and they slide between their various selves with ease. Mike Palmretuer, as Ed, digs deep as he faces up to the choices he has made, presenting raw moments of fatherly pain. Of course, Torres must carry the whole show and does so with genuine skill.
But while the story is genuine yet unique and complicated enough to keep you interested, it is the set that will truly astound you. In the premier production, the original set designer in London came up with an interesting way of using lights to tell a story. Taking a cue from that production, Steven Williams has designed a similar set that is a complicated series of LED lights wired together in a cube-like structure to create a visual light show throughout the play. It’s difficult to describe, but the set feels like the inside of a 1980’s video game. The sounds and lights move according to the action of the play. Back lights are cleverly used to highlight characters and dialogue off stage. Cubes and lights are used to simulate trains and Tube stations. Perhaps the best moment was the creation of the Tube station when the top of the ceiling swung down to form the back wall of the station. There were audible gasps from the audience as the ceiling moved to form a new piece of scenery. This play is worth seeing just to see what we can do with new technology in the world of the theatre.
While this play begins with a dead dog, it ends with a live dog–one that might even have a chance at stealing the show! But this new dog also stands as a metaphor for what this show is really about–life moves forward and so it’s up to us to decide how we will find our own happiness with everyone and everything that surrounds us.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs from Jan. 18-Feb. 10, 2019 at the Omaha Community Playhouse at 6915 Cass Street, Omaha. Tickets range from $24 to $40. To order tickets go to www.omahaplayhouse.com or call 402-553-0800.