Speakeasy’s ‘team’ shines in ‘The Curious Incident’

Craig Mathers, Jackie Davis and Eliott Purcell in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”
Photo: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

BOSTON – In sports parlance, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is a total team effort.

The Speakeasy Stage Company production of the Tony Award-winning play by Simon Stephens at the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts is the rare occasion when director, cast and designers work in perfect balance, their talents complementing and enhancing each other’s work.

The credit starts with Speakeasy Artistic Director Paul Daigneault, who directed, but also at the head of the line is Eliott Purcell, the promising young actor already recognized for his bravura performance in Speakeasy’s “Hand to God” earlier this year and almost assuredly to be recognized once again for this performance as 15-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone of Swindon, England.

His Christoper is bit more reserved than the way others have played the character, but no less effective in conveying the quirks and frustrations that are a huge part of his daily existence. We are never actually told what he suffers from, possibly a mild form of autism, perhaps Aspberger’s Syndrome, but it dramatically affects how he processes the world around him and his relationships with others.

He doesn’t like to be touched and his behaviors cause him to be misunderstood by police officers and others, but he’s also a whiz at math and he keeps detailed journals of what’s going on around him.

He comes upon a dog named Wellington that has been killed with a garden fork, and Christoper, who likes dogs and liked Wellington, is curious and determined to find out who did it, despite strict orders from his father not to pry into the business of others.

One of the themes Stephens and the novel by Mark Haddon explores is how the stress of caring for a child with a serious disease or special needs – such as an autistic child – can fracture or further stress a relationship already in trouble.

Craig Mathers is caring, decent but beleaguered father Ed, who is betrayed by wife Judy (Laura Latreille), herself a caring sort but frustrated and overwhelmed in trying to provide for Christopher and his needs.

One day he informs Christopher that his mother is sick and due to a heart problem has gone to the hospital for a long stay, but visiting her is out of the question. Then one day out of the blue his mother has died, and what Christopher discovers in the aftermath will send his world spinning out of control.

The design team shines throughout, but it is particularly effective in portraying the sensory overload Christoper encounters on the busy streets of London as he makes what is, for him, an incredible journey from Swindon to London. He summons every ounce of his will and courage to overcome the obstacles life has put before him, on the way discovering a strength he – and his parents – never knew he possessed.

He will also discover other truths, such as who killed Wellington and the fact that adults often lie, and can be cruel and manipulative.

The set by Christopher and Justin Swader recalls other productions, featuring black, silver and white, with what appears to be mathematical equations written with white marker or chalk, set against an upstage wall with cut-out portion and square panels.

When combined with Jeff Adelberg’s lighting, with several different kinds of lights situated all around the set, and David Remedios’ startlingly effective sound, it conveys the world as Christopher sees it, an overwhelming array of confusing sights and sounds that he struggles to make sense of.

The rest of the cast backing the leads is just as effective. Jackie Davis is Siobhan, the supportive, encouraging teacher who reads Christoper’s journals and urges him to allow the school to make them into a play.

An excellent ensemble performs dozens of supporting characters as well as serving as human props when needed, working in perfect tandem with their movements exquisitely directed by Yo-El Cassell.

Tim Hackney is Roger Shears, the man Judy takes up with. Cheryl McMahon is a a sympathetic neighbor and Christine Power shines as the smarmy principal Mrs. Gascoyne and an embittered Mrs. Shears. Alejandro Simoes, Damon Singletary, Tim Hackney and Gigi Watson are equally as strong in a variety of roles.

There is a plot thread involving Christopher possibly taking A level math exams – usually taken by 17 or 18-year-olds — that will need to be resolved. Will he take them? Will he pass them? Will he find some happiness?

Despite the turmoil and trouble that seem omnipresent in Christopher’s life, “A Curious Incident” is ultimately an uplifting, inspiring tale of what can be accomplished when you set your sights high, and when those around you are also trying to lift you up to reach those heights.

It is a beautifully realized production, and a tribute to the excellence that Boston’s mid-sized professional theaters frequently produce.

The Speakeasy Stage Company production of Simon Stephens’ “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” Based on the novel by Mark Haddon. Directed by Paul Daigneault. Movement direction by Yo-El Cassell. Scenic design by Christopher and Justin Swader. Lighting design by Jeff Adelberg. Costume design by Gail Astrid Buckley. Sound design by David Remedios. Props design by Joe Stallone. At the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts through Nov. 25.  speakeasystage.org

Laura Latreille and Eliott Purcell in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” Photo: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

 

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