April 12 2017 12:20 AM

‘Curious Incident’ gives audiences plenty to chew on

For those trying to deduce if the play with a mysterious title is worth investigating, I can say, "Mystery solved." "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" was a powerful “who-dunnit?” that had me thankful I "done-it." The Wharton Center performance was full of discoveries — sometimes lighthearted but frequently heart-wrenching.

The plot of "Curious Incident” almost takes a detective to decipher. Simon Stephens' stage adaptation of Mark Haddon's novel centers around the 15-yearold Christopher Boone, played with an intense ferocity by Adam Langdon. Christopher, the focus of every scene, is a highly intelligent savant who is ill equipped to cope with everyday life. While Christopher is not formally diagnosed in either the book or the musical, it is strongly implied that he has some sort of autism spectrum disorder. Watching his struggles proved to be a potent mix of joy and gut-churning pain.

"Curious Incident" is a combination of crude humor and disturbing characterizations. In it, bits of Brit wit are infused with horrific family drama. Gene Gillette, as Christopher’s father, and Felicity Jones Latta, as his mother, acted passionately as a couple fighting with each other and with their troubled, hyper-sensitive-yet-math-genius son. (The two actors also play other ensemble characters.)

Some of the unique musical elements of the play might take a mathematician to decipher. The opening of the show counts out 2-3-5-7 rhythms, using sounds that are based on prime number frequencies. Just like the chapters in Haddon's book, the music in the show is based on prime number sequences. Though full of techno-inspired music, “Curious Incident” is not really a musical. There is plenty of swearing, yelling and screaming — but no singing.

To clearly transmit the full range of tones, 50 individual speakers were placed in the Wharton Center’s Cobb Great Hall. The lighting used to illuminate the stage included 892 pixel LEDs, and the stage walls and floor were made with five tons of steel. The result is an often-spectacular audio-visual extravaganza, not unlike scenes in “The Matrix" films. In fact, the film inspired the light-up pixels on the floor.

The massive light box that formed the stage showed images as simple as a constellation or falling rain to complex views of passing scenery through a train window or torrents of numbers. The one-of-a-kind structure presented everything from fearful pictures in Christopher’s head to underground rail maps — often featuring abundant strobe lights and frenzies of images.

The unique set, designed by Bunny Christie, and lighting by Paule Constable did much to convey the kinetic and penetrating story — one that starts with a dead dog and ends with a cute, live puppy.

Despite a title — derived from a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes story — that might suggest a more adolescent show, be assured "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" is a heady, often-intense show meant for adults. This old dog will certainly be chewing on this meaty show for a long time.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”

7:30 p.m. Wednesay, April 12-Thursday, April 13; 8 p.m. Friday, April 14; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, April 15; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, April 16 Tickets start at $41/$28 students Wharton Center 750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing (517) 432-2000, whartoncenter. com