Playwright: Simon Stephens, adapted from Mark Haddon's novel. At: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St. Tickets: 800-775-2000; BroadwayInChicago.com; $25-$98. Runs through: Dec. 24
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is performed on a holodecka box with a grid of black squares on the wallsthat allows complex lighting and video to give the audience a near-virtual-reality experience of planets, stars, urban sensory overload, the blur of a speeding train and 90-degree shifts in perspective, among other bells and whistles.
The visuals allow viewers to enter the head of Christopher Boone ( Adam Langdon ), the play's 15-year-old autistic hero who lives with his father in contemporary England. Christopher is a highly verbal math genius but he can't tolerate being touched, can't look at people when speaking to them, can't verbalize his feelings and is incredibly self-absorbed. His genuinely patient and caring dad ( Gene Gillette ) guides his semi-sheltered life along with a dedicated teacher, Siobhan ( Maria Elena Ramirez ).
Two more things: Christopher processes information in an absolutely literal wayphrases such as "the apple of his eye" or "you'll catch your death" baffle himand he always speaks the truth. The world, however, is far less literal and truthful than Christopher. Well-intended adults pave the road to hell by constantly saying "Sorry" to him or "I promise that won't happen again." Regrettably, the greatest untruth is perpetrated by Dad, who has told Christopher his mother ( Felicity Jones Latta ) is dead. In fact, she lives 80 miles away in London. When Christopher discovers this, near-chaos follows.
Playwright Simon Stephens ( long affiliated with Chicago's Steep Theatre ) has fashioned a serious and substantial work from the 2003 novel by Mark Haddon. It's that theatrical rarity: a new play with dramatic weight and size that's heartfelt and earnest. It crackles with tension, frequent wit, genuine passion and it moves lickety-split, as staged by Marianne Elliott and choreographed ( it's not a musical ) by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett. The play's strength penetrates the glossy, high-tech production. That's important, for when the flashy national tour is over and Curious Incident is given much smaller productions by regional theaters ( perhaps Steep Theatre ), it will need to stand on story and text alone and not on wizardry. I think it will.
At the heart of Curious Incident is a huge, demanding, even punishing showcase role which requires non-stop physicality and also verbal dexterity. It's exhilarating but exhausting to see string bean Adam Langdon wrap himself in glory as Christopher ( played by Benjamin Wheelwright at matinees ), equal parts guileless naif and brat. The other playersall quite capable and appealingfrequently assume fixed positions, or move slowly, as Langdon whizzes around, which emphasizes the difficulty of dealing with this charismatic but prickly lad.
The Oriental Theatre is far too large for Curious Incident, but go anyway to this fine play and fine production.