Theater

Review: Steppenwolf’s ‘Curious Incident’ shines light on autism

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” runs through Oct. 27 at Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” runs through Oct. 27 at Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago.

In a departure from producing original works, Steppenwolf for Young Adults opens its 2018-19 season with the beautiful Simon Stephens adaptation of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”

Following faithfully the best-selling 2013 Mark Haddon novel, Steppenwolf Artistic DIrector Jonathan Berry has directed a stellar eight-member ensemble in this play within a play.

One of my favorite lines is expressed by 15-year-old autism spectrum protagonist Christopher John Francis Boone early on: “People do a lot of talking without really saying anything.” But this marvelous production has a lot to say – about hope, acceptance, change and respecting the differently abled.

Staged as a reading of Christopher’s red notebook writings by his compassionate teacher, Siobhan, the drama conveys the point of view of the “neuro-diverse” Christopher as he attempts to solve the murder of the neighbor’s dog, Wellington. A suspect himself, we also are introduced to his love of mathematics, his recoiling from touch, his insistence on the truth, his capacity for memorizing details and his reliance on structure. Along the way, Christopher bravely accomplishes much in his quest for the truth.

Making his Steppenwolf debut, the fascinating and engrossing Terry Bell portrays Christopher Boone; he has captured the movements, anxieties, abilities and innocence of those diagnosed on the Autism spectrum. Bell makes Christopher both hard to watch and a joy to watch, and moved me, a former special education teacher, to tears several times.

Also notable are Cedric Mays, as Christopher’s father, a raw, beating heart of an actor; Rebecca Spence as Chris’ struggling mother, and Caroline Neff as Siobhan, Chris’ teacher – both truly are subtle, understated actresses – and the very facile Christopher M. Walsh, a versatile character actor.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is a narrative full of humor, affirmation and emotion. There’s a reason why it won seven Olivier awards on its premiere run, and a Drama Desk Award, an Outer Critics Award and a Tony Award when it came to the United States from London.

Brandon Wardell’s set is simple, functional, utilitarian and cleverly shifted by ensemble members during scene changes. However, Joseph Burke’s projections and visual effects are somewhat disappointing, particularly as a plot device and a major component of the scenic design. (But then again, I’m not privy to the production budget.) But it truly doesn’t matter as you’ll be engagingly surrounded by admission into the life of one Christopher Boone.

• Regina Belt-Daniels is a working actress and director. She is a retired District 47 special educator, a retired Raue Center for the Arts board member and currently serves on the boards of It’s Showtime-Huntley and RCLPC. Regina also is a 2018 Woman of Distinction.

•••

WHAT: “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”

WHEN: Through Oct. 27

WHERE: Steppenwolf Theater, 1650 N. Halsted St., Chicago

COST & INFO: Tickets are $20-30, avaialble at 312-335-1650 or steppenwolf.org. *The 3 p.m. Oct. 27 performance will be a relaxed/sensory-friendly performance.

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