By Bob Evans
As expected, the Kansas City Rep re-crafts plays to give audiences a fresh look and new perspectives for the mounted productions as is the case with “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,” by Mark Haddon.
Artistic director, Eric Rosen, confirmed that he wants the Rep to develop young talent and provide sturdy structure for them to express themselves and grow. As such, he passed his directorial duties to Marissa Wolf to envision this special play that shines a light on a young man, Christopher Boone, impacted with Autism or possible Asperger’s disorder.
Simon Stephens’ Tony-winning adaptation of Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel, revolves around a 15-year old young man who sees things in literal terms only, does not understand emotions, and cannot allow others to touch him. While Christopher lives his life, numbers and math call to him because they provide constancy and formulas he understands and computes. Math is literal and does not change. He likes puzzles and to figure things out; hence his love of numbers, math, and equasions. While Christopher’s biggest strength is his ability to solve puzzles, it is his curiosity about solving the harsh murder of a neighbor’s dog that leads him to some answers and situations he never intends.
Director Marissa Wolf selected a sturdy cast of Kansas City professionals to surround newcomer Jamie Sanders for his first professional acting job. Sanders, from New York, son of two actors said he could not have begun his career with a better ensemble and support. Wolf selected perfectly for the lead character, Christopher, and then surrounded him with a fortress of talent. For his parents, KC Rep assistant artistic director, Jason Chanos and UMKC Theater’s Stephanie Roberts ooze character as they both struggle to understand their challenged son. Both characters display their strong love and feelings while also showing their human frailties in their broken relationship. As Christopher’s mentor, Brie Elrod provides the one constant in his life, understands his struggle, and offers continued encouragement. Her role provides the one human foundation he needs.
The play begins as a mystery and grabs the audience from the first scene. The modernistic set contains few props or backgrounds and allows the cast to appear and disappear instantaneously. The lighting design moves the audience through the piece with beautiful, changing hues to help with the switching moods and emotions on stage. The cast portrays a myriad of characters who flow into and through Christopher’s path as he begins to explore the mystery of the dog’s death and solve the murder.
As the play progresses the audience is lured deeper and deeper into the world of a high functioning special needs child. As Christopher interviews neighbors about a dog’s death, he learns information he never intended to find. His journaling becomes a book, which leads to a dramatic discovery that propels the story rapidly forward.
Outstanding acting, beautiful light schemes, a stunning set on a carousel, set pieces elevating from trap doors–all contribute to the effect of the play. Add to that great sound, costumes and movement and the play creates a modernistic texture that holds the piece tightly together. Opening night foretells the success of the production as it was a sold-out performance and had the audience on its feet as curtain calls began.
You know you are in for a treat when the supporting cast includes such dynamic and diverse talent as Chioma Anyanwu, Rufus Burns, Walter Coppage, Peggy Friesen, Nicole Marie Greene, and Andy Perkins. Couple that cast with the creative/production team led by Wolf. They are: Arnuflo Maldonado, scenic design; Asta Bennie Hostetter, costume design; Grand Wilcoxen, lighting design, Brendan Aanes, sound design/composer; Erika Chong Shuch, movement coordinator; John Wilson, fight choreographer; Elizabeth Bettendorf Bowman and Hannah L’Abri Miller, assistant directors; Mary Allison Joseph and Bethany Sulecki, dramaturgy; Stephanie Klapper and Chip Miller casting; Scott Stackhouse, dialogue coach; Mary R. Honour, production stage manager; Rachel Dyer, assistant stage manager.
To advise on the Autism spectrum, KC Rep worked with Jennifer Smith, a local advocate for Autism Awareness. Smith worked on a film that won an Academy Award on the subject and provides local services and aid for those whose children are victims of the disorder.
Smith is extremely proud of a special performance of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. A special sensory-friendly performance has been added for Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. The Sensory-friendly performance (also known as Sensory-relaxed) has been added, and it is designed to create a theatrical experience welcoming to all individuals on the Autism spectrum or with other special needs that create sensory sensitivities, and the people who love and support them.
According to KC Rep, special accommodations for sensory-friendly performances include:
• Lower sound level, especially for startling or loud sounds
• Lights remain on at a low level in the audience during the performance
• A reduction of strobe lighting or bright lighting focused on the audience
• Patrons are free to talk and leave their seats during the performance
• A designated quiet room will be set up adjacent to the theatre
• Space throughout the theater for standing and movement
Special training for KCRep staff, who will be available to accommodate patrons’ needs and answer any questions they may have.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” continues in Spencer Theater on the UMKC campus through February 18. Tickets can be purchased through the KC Rep website.
Tags: “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time”, UMKC, Kansas City Repertory Theater, KC Rep, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment