The image is as indelible as it is disturbing. As “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” opens, a pooch named Wellington lies at center stage, impaled by a pitchfork. Kneeling next to the dog is Christopher Boone, an autistic 15-year-old who is nimble with numbers but can barely dress himself.
The dog’s owner appears, blurting out words of accusation. “I did not kill the dog,” Christopher says emphatically, the words delivered with jackhammer force. The single-minded youth (played by Adam Langdon) vows to find the real killer, an investigation that gives him surprising insights into his family, his world and ultimately, himself.
Adapted by playwright Simon Stephens from Mark Haddon’s 2003 bestselling novel, “Curious Incident” was the drama darling of the 2015 Tonys, where it won five trophies, including best play. The Broadway tour, which touched down Tuesday in Minneapolis for a weeklong run at the Orpheum Theatre, retains its luster.
Director Marianne Elliott’s bracing production takes us inside Christopher’s head to see the world as he experiences it. The show is often assaultive, with loud sounds and eruptive lights.
With a mystery-like plot — the title is drawn from a Sherlock Holmes tale — “Curious Incident” is both high- and low-tech.
Designer Bunny Christie’s spare black-box set, which is plotted like graph paper and suggests the inside of a computer chip, is a futuristic realm occasionally bedazzled by lighting effects. But this show also is a piece of devised theater, where members of the protean acting ensemble use their bodies to form doors, turnstiles, even a key container while they play the denizens of London.
On Broadway, Alex Sharp won a Tony for his virtuosic turn as Christopher, a character who does not like to be touched and dreams of space flight. Langdon acquits himself well in the role, vividly depicting Christopher’s physical tension, both when he’s shrinking into his inner world or lashing out at those who dare to touch him. Langdon gets into the tremulous fears and fantastical dreams of an extraordinary young man coming of age.
Although he prefers isolation, Christopher has a village around him, including his father, Ed (Gene Gillette, alternately explosive and compassionate), his teacher, Siobhan (an understanding but matter-of-fact Maria Elena Ramirez) and kind neighbor Mrs. Alexander (Amelia White).
Ed tells Christopher that his mother, Judy (former Twin Cities actress Felicity Jones Latta, in a gorgeously layered turn), has died from a heart condition. To say more is to give away too much of the plot, which gets a touch manipulative at points, including the aww-inducing introduction of a very cute puppy.
“Curious Incident” is perhaps the most famous theater work about autism, even though the term is never used in the show. It shows us how a talented and challenged young man learns to negotiate our world and we, in turn, gain a sensitive appreciation of his.