REVIEW: Get Inside the Beautiful Mind of Avon Players’ ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’

Wellington is dead and Christopher’s ordered life becomes forever flipped upside down in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time running now through Saturday, February 3, 2024, at Avon Players Theatre in Rochester, Mich.

Originally a 2003 mystery novel by British author Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is largely narrated from the first-person perspective of 15-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone (Robert Carrigan) who lives in Swindon, England. Christopher is blessed with a brilliant analytical mind. He likes space, stars, and solitude. He values method and math. What he doesn’t like is being touched and interacting with strangers.

One evening, Christopher discovers the dead body of Wellington, his neighbor Mrs. Shears’ dog. Initially, Christopher is accused of killing Wellington since he is found kneeling over the dead animal. Once he is cleared, he decides he will solve Wellington’s murder and begins chronicling any information he picks up in a composition book, which he shares with his paraprofessional and mentor, Siobhan (Caitlin O’Brien, Bright Star). Siobhan in turn reads aloud from the book to the audience. In addition, she champions Christopher, while also trying to help him understand a world that often confounds him. One person who isn’t happy about Christopher’s investigation or the book is his father, Ed (Luigi Murri, Run for Your Wife). Ed works hard to support and look after Christopher, especially after the passing of his wife, Judy (Joy Oetjens, Calendar Girls). But in trying to protect Christopher, Ed ends up doing more harm than good. The result is the implosion of Christopher’s innocence, which sends him on a harrowing journey far away from the security of his comfort zone.

Siobhan (Caitlin O’Brien) lends support to Christopher (Robert Carrigan) in Avon Players’ production of the emotional ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.’ Photo courtesy of Bryan Clifford

Even though Christopher is uncomfortable in the everyday world most of us glide through, there is bravery to his story. As he searches for answers, he forces himself to confront the things that frighten him the most. How many of us would be willing to fight through our fears to do that? While Christopher exhibits many of the characteristics of someone on the autism spectrum, Haddon has said the story isn’t about that, nor is he an expert on autism or Asperger syndrome. Rather, what Haddon feels the story is about is learning to accept the differences in others. It reminds us that not all so-called square pegs are made to fit round holes. And that if we consciously make space in our lives to include those who are different, we might just witness something extraordinary.

Make no mistake. It is heartbreaking to watch Christopher go through his meltdown episodes. You can see how it pains those who love him too. Each in their way, wants the best for Christopher, and sometimes knowing what that is, is equally difficult. This is Carrigan’s second Avon Players’ production, and the weight of the show is his to carry. Carrigan does an inspiring job of channeling his character in a very believable manner. Considering that many Avon Players’ veterans surround him, that is no small accomplishment, and he gets high marks for his performance.

Joining Christopher on his journey are Aaron Barnes (The Full Monty), Liz Hutchinson (The Mousetrap), Tara Makar (Night of January 16th ), Nikki Mullaly (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Jeff Stillman (A Few Good Men), and John W. Rutherford (recipient of the 2022 Birmingham Bloomfield Cultural Arts Award). Throughout, the show, each of these actors either mime or inhabit various roles as needed, and everyone is dressed in head-to-toe gray. Except for Christopher. He is the only character to wear color – red – his favorite. Those who constantly interact with Christopher like Siobhan and Ed wear a red accent (a headband and handkerchief, respectively) to show their connection to him. The simplicity of the set is intentional and ingenious. Black boxes containing minimal props are moved around the stage, while behind the action is a large screen that projects various images throughout the play. All this allows the audience to fill in the blanks with their imagination while adding another element of wonder and entertainment to the show.

L to R: Aaron Barnes, Robert Carrigan, John W. Rutherford, and Tara Makar. Photo courtesy of Bryan Clifford

Christopher’s life isn’t easy, but then whose life is? But if we’re brave like Christopher, there’s a good chance we will survive whatever is thrown our way and figure out a way to thrive. Because even though we all come from different backgrounds, certain elements of life are universal: wanting to be heard, accepted, and understood. I encourage you to experience this richly poignant play and let it open your eyes to wonderful possibilities. The full house certainly did on opening night and showed their appreciation with a standing ovation.

The performance runs approximately two hours with a 15-minute intermission. Strong language is used. Also, this is the first curtain call I’ve witnessed where a math problem is solved after the bows.

An added perk to the evening was sitting in the brand-new seats raised by Avon Players’ fundraising campaign. The clunky uncomfortable metal chairs are gone and replaced with plusly supportive fabric chairs. It’s a real treat for your tush!

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is directed by Lia DiFonzo with Lisa Schein as producer. The projection designer is Bryan Clifford with Caroline Dargay on properties. Costume design is by Jonathan Farrell, lighting design by John (JD) Deierlein, and sound design by Tyler Kavanaugh and Mark Palmer. John (JD) Deierlein is also the stage manager and Eric Rodman is the associate director.

Tickets for all shows are $25. Call 248.608.9077 for tickets or order online at www.AvonPlayers.org. Discounts on matinee tickets are available for seniors and students; call the box office for details. Additionally, group rates are available by calling the box office. “Like” Avon Players Theatre on Facebook for special offers on tickets. All major credit cards are accepted. All seats are reserved. Show dates and times follow:

Saturday, Jan 20 – 8:00 p.m.

Sunday, Jan 21 – 2:00 p.m.

Friday, Jan 26 – 8:00 p.m.

Saturday, Jan 27 – 8:00 p.m.

Sunday, Jan 28 – 2:00 p.m.

Friday, Feb 2 – 8:00 p.m.

Saturday, Feb 3 – 8:00 p.m.

About Sarah Hovis

Freelance wordsmith, arts appreciator, grammar geek, sports spectator, stationery snob, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at sarah@rochestermedia.com.

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