Encore Michigan

‘Curious Incident’ at Dio brings the Sherlock-like story to life with intensity and love

Review June 16, 2022 David Kiley

PINCKNEY, MI–Intense and captivating. That’s the Dio Dining + Entertainment’s current production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Adapted from Mark Haddon’s celebrated best-selling novel of the same name, the story focuses on 15-year old Christopher (Austin McCoy), who is on the brilliant end of the broad and complicated autism spectrum. A dog has been killed near his home with a pitchfork. And he sets out to try and learn who would have done such a terrible thing.

The unfolding story, though, reveals far more to Christopher than who killed the poor dog. The lad lives with his father (Andrew Gorney). Christopher is told that his Mother (Marlene Inman) is living in London in a hospital. And not long into the play, it is said to him that she has died from a heart attack. But not everything is as it seems. People lie to Christopher left and right. His mathematically disciplined and relentlessly curious mind, though, is pretty fair at sniffing out those lies one by one.

Monica Spencer in “Curious Incident of the Dog in The Nightime”

Directed by Jared Schneider, with assistant direction by Rachael Cupples and technical direction, sound, scenic design and lighting by Matt Tomich, the setting for the mystery sleuthing is possibly the simplest set ever created by Mr. Tomich–­a white backdrop with large white boxes and plain wooden boxes for actors to sit on at various times. But as an autistic savant, Christopher prefers things simple and so the colorless background and stage is meant to enable him to focus on the tasks at hand–getting answers to questions.

The flow of the story is derived, we learn, from the diary that Christopher keeps. And in the background of the set on the black wall, we see projected sketches from his notebook that go with the movement of the story. What we get is all projected from Christopher’s mind.

Mr. McCoy is endearing in the lead role and has done an excellent job studying the mannerisms and body language of an autistic savant. Because the story is so relentlessly focused on what is happening to him, and what he is learning about the crime and his fractured family, the weight of the play is on his shoulders and he carries it very well.

Mr. Schneider cast his supporting cast extremely well. Mr. Gorney is strong as Christopher’s father–controlling and embittered by his life and the loss of Christopher’s Mother, but allowing the audience to not forget that he loves his son very much, even if his way of expressing it is not always very healthy. Ms. Inman, who we usually see in a significant singing role, nails the role of loving, but frustrated Mother to Christopher, and delivers a West England accent consistently and impressively. Monica Spencer is Siobhan, Christopher’s para-professional and mentor from school. Ms. Spencer is a steadying presence, and does not overplay her role, which is crucial in any production of this play.

The ensemble of Ms. Cupples, Dan Morrison, Anne Bauman, Kelsi Fay, Dante Justice, Donovan Leary must change hats and personas throughout the play, ranging from Mr. Morrison playing a policeman and the lover of Christopher’s mother, to Ms. Cupples playing the role at one point of an ATM machine. It’s an incredibly strong team of actors that underpin the story of the principles and double occasionally as set pieces and props. The stagecraft is first rate.

There is also a nice moment in the end when Sandy, a French Bulldog seven-week old puppy is given to Christopher. Adorable.

The story is rich. And there is a baked in compelling energy driven by Christopher’s character and Mr. McCoy’s stellar performance. If there is a flaw, it’s not in the production, but rather Simon Stephens’ script, which drags a bit in the second half of the second act and begs to be thinned out.

The bottom line is that Curious Incident is a captivating yarn in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes. Highly Recommended.

Week of 7/4/2022

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