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Theatre Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

SARASOTA – Such was the anticipation for the Florida Studio Theatre's current production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time that FST found itself extending the play's run before it even opened on Friday night, then again after a critically acclaimed opening weekend. In fact, the only thing that will cause it to close on March 29 is the start of the theater's next production.

The somewhat unconventional play by Simon Stephens is based on the novel of the same name by Mark Haddon. It has wowed audiences from the West End to Broadway en route to winning the Tony Award for Best Play in 2015, and FST has managed to stage a production that gives local audiences a Broadway-worthy presentation of this enchanting work.

The story opens with the mysterious death of a neighborhood dog. Christopher Boone, a young autistic boy who lives nearby, decides to investigate. The story examines his relationships with his loving but stoic father, Ed, his estranged mother, Judy, and a school counselor named Siobhan who serves as something of a mentor, as well as the sometimes narrator of the play-within-a-play device used in the book's adaptation to stage.

There's much to praise in this exceptional play, but the most impactful aspect was the vivid depiction of Christopher's perspective, which anyone who has ever had personal experience with a loved one challenged by autism will no doubt find riveting. It is also this aspect in which FST's production, directed by Richard Hopkins, really comes through for audiences.

When it comes to casting, the role of Christopher–a boy of manic energy who espouses many of the common characteristics of those on the spectrum–is beyond critical. In finding Alexander Stuart to play the role–for which Luke Treadaway won an Olivier for Best Actor when the play opened on London's West End and Alex Sharp famously won the Tony Award for Best Actor in his very first professional acting role during its Broadway run–FST landed the foundation for a very worthy recreation.

Alexander Stuart and Rachel Moulton. Photo by Mathew Holler.

Stuart, who is on the autistic spectrum himself, takes us into Christopher's world with jarring realism. His complicated relationship with his father (played with perfect understated nuance by Todd Licea) and distance with his mother (a splendid performance by Rachel Moulton) can be heartbreaking, while his touching relationship with Siobhan (played with compelling warmth by Ashton Heyl) provides good counterbalance with from the view of someone capable of reaching the child on a different level.

Hopkins uses less multimedia than the original and relies more on Stuart's performance to inform the audience as to Christopher's perspective, and this call certainly pays off. The play manages to take the audience on a wild ride through the full spectrum of emotions. It is an experience that, emotionally, I found both exhilarating and draining, but, above all else, satisfying.

Even with the added dates, tickets are bound to disappear sooner rather than later for this captivating work. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs through March 29 in FST’s Gompertz Theatre. Visit their website for schedule and ticket information.


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