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Oct 21, 2016

‘Curious Incident’ arrives at the Peace Center

Greenville News

Paul Hyde, [email protected]:53 p.m. EDT October 20, 2016

At the heart of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is a mystery:

A dog has turned up dead. Someone killed him with a garden tool.

Who did the evil deed?

Christopher, a young man with a brilliant mind but a host of personal challenges, sets out to solve the crime.

And so begins the play opening at the Peace Center Tuesday for eight performances through Oct. 30.

“The Curious Incident,” based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Mark Haddon, garnered all the top theater awards, including Best Play, in New York and London.

Though it’s a play, the show has been compared to a musical for its choreography and dazzling sound design and technical wizardry.

It’s also a star vehicle for the young man playing Christopher, the central character who never leaves the stage during the intensely physical two-hour show.

“It’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever come across as an actor, mentally and physically,” said Adam Langdon, who plays Christopher.

He added, with a laugh, “They do let me leave the stage during intermission.”

Critics have praised the play particularly for the character of the 15-year-old Christopher, who idolizes and mimics Sherlock Holmes.

Christopher is a wiz at math and fascinated by the workings of the universe. He notices things in minute detail.

But he also faces an array of social challenges. He doesn’t like strangers or like to be touched. He’s overly sensitive to light and some colors.

He relates best to his pet rat, Toby.

The 2012 play’s creators suggest that Christopher has an autism spectrum disorder, although his condition is never explicitly stated in the play.

“I describe Christopher as one of the most insightful, wonderful, unique human beings on the planet,” said Langdon, 23. “He sees the world like no one else does. He’s funny and clever and so smart and extremely sensitive.”

Christopher’s story also becomes a journey of self-discovery as he learns to connect with others.

The play enjoyed long runs on Broadway and in London’s West End. The national tour coming to Greenville launched only a month ago.

Adapting for the stage

Turning Haddon’s best-selling novel into a stage play was no easy task. The novel is a first-person narrative, related by Christopher.

Playwright Simon Stephens had the job of externalizing Christopher’s thoughts.

“Extracting his behavior from his thinking was key,” said Stephens, speaking by phone from his home in London. “Novelists deal with reflection, thought, ideas and memory, and dramatists deal with behavior.”

Stephens had the inspiration to have Christopher’s teacher, Siobhan, read the young man’s writings.

“I guess because I come from a family of teachers, I was drawn to the teacher-student relationship and decided to make that the heart of the adaptation,” Stephens said.

The play’s award-winning digital projections, meanwhile, help the audience see the world from Christopher’s perspective.

“I wanted to dramatize what it felt like to be Christopher,” Stephens said. “I wanted to create a space in this play where sound and technical artists could give their imaginations free rein.”

The 15-member human cast is enhanced by two rats, Zeus and Jinxies, who alternate in the role of Toby the Rat. Incidentally, Toby has his own Twitter handle: @curioustoby.

The play includes some strong language and is recommended for ages 10 and up.

Wednesday’s performance will be preceded by an admission-free 6:30 p.m. Peace Talk about “The Curious Incident,” with host Kristin Pressley.

For the latest in local arts news and reviews, follow Paul Hyde on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.