Strong performances, dynamic visuals boost Zach Theatre’s ‘Curious Incident’

Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” was something of a phenomenon when it was first published. Both a critical success and a best-seller, it was released in separate editions for adult and young adult readers, and it generated acclaim from mental health experts for its realistic depiction of its main character’s autism.

Contributed by Kirk Tuck

In 2012, playwright Simon Stephens’ stage adaptation of the novel premiered at the National Theatre in London and ran both in the West End and on Broadway. Now, the play comes to Austin in a production from Zach Theatre, directed by the company’s producing artistic director, Dave Steakley.

Zach’s production of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is both stylish and stylized. It follows the story of Christopher Boone, an autistic teenage boy investigating the mystery of who killed his neighbor’s dog. The kinetic, mobile, multimedia nature of the production allows Steakley to accomplish two difficult tasks at once — re-create the novelistic style of the script, which jumps around in time, and represent what it’s like to experience the world through the lens of Christopher’s autism.

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The deliberately stylish production (which owes much to scenic/projection designer Stephanie Busing, lighting designer Rachel Atkinson and sound designer Craig Brock) overcomes some of the text’s bigger problems. The achronological approach, taken from the novel, is at times confusing when adapted to the stage, and attempts at humorous meta-commentary on the nature of theater in the second act seem to go nowhere. However, the fast-moving pace of the production more than makes up for these flaws.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” features a top-tier cast of both local and out-of-town talent, including nuanced, emotional performances by Nick Stevenson as Christopher’s father and Meredith McCall as his departed mother. The heart and soul of the production, though, is young actor Preston Straus as Christopher, who gives a deeply moving and believable portrayal of the boy’s many quirks and neuroses. Straus doesn’t just play Christopher’s autism as a surface-level affectation, but rather plumbs the depths of the character’s psyche to create a realistic teenage boy whose life happens to be structured around his autism.

With an engaging, dynamic visual dimension layered on top of a poignant coming-of-age drama with some fantastic performances, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is a very strong addition to Zach Theatre’s mainstage season.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday through March 4
Where: Zach Theatre, 202 S. Lamar Blvd.
Cost: $25-$133
Information: 512-476-0541, zachtheatre.org

 

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