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Column: ‘Curious Incident’

When I first heard “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” was coming to the Des Moines Civic Center, I’ll be honest and say I had never heard of it. The book came out at a time when I wasn’t cracking into such deep subject matter.

Nevertheless, when I found out the play was making a stop in Des Moines, I wanted to know more about what I was going to see. The plot summary drew my attention. It was described as a mystery, however, the main character was “a mathematician with some behavioral difficulties.” In other words, he has an autism spectrum condition. I didn’t want to read too much into it and spoil the story, so I read just enough to get the basics of what was going to happen.

My fascination grew when my brother attended the play on Broadway in New York and said it was one of the best shows he’d ever seen. That was high praise because it’s hard to get him to go to a stage show, let alone enjoy one enough to say he loved it.

So on Tuesday night, a buzzing audience filed into the theatre to see the unique story unfold. It was impossible not to notice the strange set design as we waited for the show to begin. Three walls were set up with outlines of grids covering them top to bottom and the floor appeared to have the same grid outline as the walls. In the center, a fake dead dog rested — our only clue as to the mystery that would begin our tale.

The play started with a bang. Loud music blared as actors marched onto the stage and took their seats around the stage. I’m not afraid to admit I nearly jumped out of my seat when the sound erupted from the speakers. It was attention grabbing to say the least.

The main character, Christopher Boone, was determined to discover what happened to his neighbor’s dog. The only problem was he’s a special 15-year-old boy who can’t stand human contact and doesn’t like talking to strangers. He wasn’t going to let that deter him. He was doing “detective work” and writing a book about it.

What Christopher discovered was far bigger than the fate of the neighbor’s dog. He found out life-changing information he wasn’t prepared to process. This sets him out on a the biggest journey of his life. I can’t reveal much more than that.

The story was told through Christopher’s perspective. The entire stage was built to appear as though you were watching the scenes take place in Christopher’s mind. It was a brilliant way to showcase how his mind worked. It was loud and chaotic at times and straightforward and honest at others. The stage was as much a character of the play as the actors themselves.

Adam Langdon played Christopher. He gave a compelling performance that brought such honesty and depth to the character. Some scenes were intense, and without the perfect lead in the role, the message could fall flat. Langdon captivated me throughout the entire performance. It can’t be easy to play someone who sees the world completely different, but Langdon was perfect in the role.

My sister, Trish, attended the show with me. As a math teacher, she was even more engrossed in the mathematical thinking unfolding before our eyes. After the curtain call, she had to stay and listen to Christopher explain how he answered his complicated math question. She knew precisely what he was talking about, whereas I was lost after Pythagorean theorem.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” will be at the Civic Center through Sunday.

Contact Pam Rodgers

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