The sold-out opening weekend of Mixed Blood Theatre's "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" suggests it has a hit on its hands. Which makes sense, since the play has many audiences: Those who read the bestseller on which it's based. The autism community, which has embraced the work. And anyone who likes a potent evening of theater.
Simon Stephens' adaptation of the Mark Haddon novel is both a detective story — featuring a young, British Sherlock Holmes fan who takes on a case of canine-ocide — and a character study. Although it's not mentioned in the piece, Christopher is on the autism spectrum, which means he relates to the world in a different way than some of us do. That presents challenges: He does not like to be touched, can't understand metaphors and becomes confused when people lie. But, as Mixed Blood's thoughtful production makes clear, Christopher is also loyal, determined, creative and brave — qualities that make for an excellent detective. (Recent Holmes adaptations such as "Sherlock" and "Elementary" suggest the great sleuth also may have been on the spectrum.)
Director Jack Reuler has chosen a beautiful way to make sure Mixed Blood's "Curious Incident" reveals that each of us has qualities that affect the way we see the world. He has assembled one of the most inclusive casts I have ever seen, in terms of ethnicity and ability. Also, he has curtailed the sentiment of the play. At Mixed Blood, it feels more authentic and more brutal than it did in the touring production that played at the Orpheum Theatre a year ago.
Much of the lack of sentimentality has to do with MacGregor Arney's bold choices as Christopher: rarely making eye contact with his fellow performers, rocking between his feet as he stands, speaking rapidly, keening loudly when Christopher is upset. "Curious Incident" is all about trying to get at the difficult truth, and Arney makes sure the play is led by a performance that feels complicated and true.
The rest of the cast is also excellent, particularly Regan Linton as Christopher's calm, compassionate teacher, Siobhan. The production has most of them seated in the audience, constantly rising to move pieces of scenery and then returning to their seats, which creates a sense of community but also slows "Curious Incident" down.
The key problem the play presents for a company to solve is that it's a collection of brief scenes that take place in many different places, with many different characters. The overproduced touring version smoothed that out with a big, flashy production that constantly threatened to overwhelm the story. And while I prefer Mixed Blood's stripped-down aesthetic, it also leaves the show with too many blackouts in which we wait while hardworking actors hustle around in the dark.
On the other hand, being in the dark together works as a metaphor for "Curious Incident" — a play that ends on a poignant note of possibility, a final question that hints at the beautiful ways of seeing that are available to us if we would open our eyes.