Meet Christopher John Francis Boone, the autistic 15-year-old at the center of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the five-time Tony Award-winning drama that will dazzle your senses and tug on your heartstrings. Adapted by Simon Stephens from Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel, it was then imaginatively directed by Marianne Elliott – who performed similar theatrical wizardry on War Horse, yet another book that many thought couldn’t possibly live onstage but did so brilliantly.
Like the novel, the stage version of The Curious Incident takes us inside Christopher’s fevered brain, which has an affinity for mathematics, but cannot abide metaphors, the color yellow or being touched. Alternately aggravating and endearing, he is a handful for his father, a man with limited patience and a violent streak.
Housed in a grid-lined light box which can represent everything from the heights of the cosmos to the depths of the London Underground, the production opens with a stark image at center stage — a dead dog impaled on a pitchfork. Christopher recognizes it as a neighbor’s pet and he vows to figure out who killed the animal, despite his dad’s admonition to stay out of other people’s business.
But Christopher does learn the culprit’s identity, information which leads him to strike out on his own from his suburban home in Swindon into London, as harrowing — and imaginative — a journey as you will ever see on a theater stage.
Thanks to the video projections by Finn Ross, we are passengers on that London-bound train with Christopher and on the receiving end of the sensory overload of sights and sounds at Paddington Station. However, it is when the lad’s pet rat Toby scurries onto subway tracks and Christopher chases after him that you are likely to stop breathing in fear for them both.
As Christopher, recent Juilliard Drama graduate Adam Langdon is wholly convincing as the tireless perpetual motion machine, a non-stop chatterbox who can erupt into a tantrum at the slightest touch. It is a performance of extreme physicality and heart-on-his-T-shirt emotions, for which any resistance to empathy would be futile. (Langdon shares the role with Benjamin Wheelwright, performing in weekend matinees.)
The production is dominated by Langdon, who never leaves the stage, but the cast of 12 also gets a workout, changing characters in an eye blink, lending constant support — sometimes literally — thanks to the choreography of Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett. Still, there are standouts in the ensemble, including Gene Gillette and Felicity Jones Latta as Christopher’s parents and Maria Elena Ramirez as his caring schoolteacher.
As with War Horse, The Curious Incident will probably be made into a film one day, but it is hard to see how this staunchly stylized play will not run into the same difficulties as that other work adjusting to such a naturalistic medium.
If you see no other stage production this season, do see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. And if you go, do not sprint away to the garage as soon as the auditorium’s house lights come up. For Christopher returns to the stage with a celebratory coda that caps this astonishing theatrical event.
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, Kravis Center Dreyfoos Hall, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Through Sunday. $27 and up. 561-832-7469.