PaliHi’s Fall Drama, ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog,’ Is A Terrific Production; More Shows Thursday through Saturday

Jack Essner plays Christopher Boone in the ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.’

      Many people have read the critically acclaimed mystery novel, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” since it was published in 2003. A neighbor’s dog is murdered and Christopher Boone, who appears to be on the autism spectrum, decides to solve the murder.

         Knowing that it would take an exceptional actor to play the role, directors Cheri and Monique Smith must have felt they had the cast to perform this play – and they do.

         The book is a first-person narrative and the play is presented through Christopher’s teacher, Siobhan (Oona Fitzmaurice), reading his diary. Christopher adds his thoughts, as the play flows with the storytelling.

         A mathematical genius, but unable to read human emotion (or feel empathy), Christopher says “I cannot lie,” when asked by a policeman if he killed the dog. He cannot lie because in his world of limited social contact he does not understand why people would lie. He also doesn’t understand metaphors.

         When he initially finds out his mother died because of a heart attack, he asks “What kind of heart attack?” —and displays a complete lack of empathy. This is how his brain works.

         Christopher (Jack Essner) also can’t stand being touched. As audience members we understand his rules, and it makes us feel uncomfortable that the people he interacts with can’t grasp that he’s different and to allow it.

          Essner owns the role and his anguish is our anguish. It comes as no surprise that he has recently co-starred in an episode of “Shameless” and has been in several short films. He is on the stage for almost the entire play and never falters, rewarding us with a truly outstanding performance.

           Nic Libonati, who plays Christopher’s father Ed, is a strong actor, and he matches Essner’s performance. The father/son interactions are like a well-worn dance of frustration, compassion and love.

Jack Essner (right) and Nick Lebonati star in the Palisades High play.

      Fizmaurice as the teacher and Julia Ward as Christopher’s mother are nuanced in their roles, with many shades of emotion, aiding in a seamless production.

           As Christopher uncovers the truth to who killed Wellington, and discovers his mother is still alive, the show spins into another direction.

           The set is bare but comes alive with lighting. As we watch numbers float on the walls, we feel like we’re inside Christopher’s brain. We watch outer space on the stage walls, and we feel Christopher’s anguish (with strobes) when someone touches him.

         The show is set outside of London and the cast has impeccable English accents. The play originally opened at the Royal National Theater in London, where it won seven Laurence Olivier Awards in 2013.

         The London Telegraph reviewer wrote, “This adaptation by the acclaimed playwright Simon Stephens is intensely, innately theatrical; it is also funny and extremely moving and resonates with quality.”

          The play moved to Broadway in October 2014 and closed in 2016. In 2015, it won the Drama Desk Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award, the Drama League Award and the Tony Award for Best Play. It also received Tony Awards for best direction, best actor, best lighting design and best scenic design.

               There are limited shows this Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. On Saturday, there are shows at 2 and 7 p.m., all in Mercer Hall. Tickets are available through www.brownpapertickets.com/event/44187 or at the door. VIP is $23, general admission is $16 and student tickets are $10 and only available at the door with student ID.

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