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REVIEW: THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME — Chance Theater, Anaheim

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

A Visual Spectacle, Artfully Conceived and Cleverly Manifested


An Olivier winning production from the National Theatre in London, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is based on the best-selling novel by Mark Haddon.


The play, now featured on the Cripe Stage at Chance Theater, Anaheim, through October 22nd, directed by Darryl B. Hovis and adapted by Simon Stephens, follows the same story about a young boy on the autism spectrum. The production opens with our protagonist, 15-year-old Christopher Boone, happening upon a ghastly scene: a neighbor’s beloved dog has been murdered. Impaled by a garden pitchfork to be exact.


This 2014 Broadway smash hit (which also won five Tony Awards) puts you inside the brilliant mind of a boy who sees the world as most of us can only imagine. Christopher is acutely sensitive and highly intelligent, but has trouble adapting socially. When he’s unfairly accused of skewering Wellington, his neighbor’s large black poodle, in her front yard, Christopher puts his analytical skills to work to clear his name. His investigation leads him on a sometimes-dangerous quest that unearths a second, more personal mystery — one that involves his own family.


Jonathon Lamer, Holly Jeanne, Jared Machado, Aaron Lipp, Rachel Oliveros Catalano, and Rachel McLaughlan in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” at Chance Theater.

Chance Theater’s production of Mr. Stephens’ adaptation of the cherished novel is borne on the shoulders of its astonishing lead actor Aaron Lipp. The Chapman University junior could not have asked for a better part to enhance his career. His portrayal of someone on the spectrum never veers into caricature or imitation. Most importantly, he grounds the spectacle in a brutally honest, authentic performance.


More than that, Mr. Lipp is unbearably poignant in moments of distress when he claps his hands over his ears, lays down with his face on the ground and moans, and also while movingly capturing the character's courage, his twitchy awkwardness, his brilliance at mathematics, his startling perspectives on the world, and even his exultant joy.


Rachel Oliveros Catalano and Aaron Lipp in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” at Chance Theater.

The play involves a significant reworking of the source material. Rather than present the story in the first-person narrative as in the novel, Mr. Stephens presents it as a reading of Boone's own writing, read aloud in segments by his soothing teacher, Siobhan (played by an arresting Rachel Oliveros Catalano), an even-handed mentor who works to expand Christopher’s horizons socially as well as academically. As a result, she is one of the few people that Christopher trusts, and mirrors the reader as an observer and commentator on his life.


The result is that the play is presented as a play within a play. The stage is basically minimal but for a neatly geometric pattern of laminate cubes crisscrossing the floor and a back wall with irregular grid-like window designs. Undefined shadows of people are represented in the windows.


Casey Long and Aaron Lipp in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” at Chance Theater.

Those walls, however, constantly spring to life, mimicking the machinations of Christopher’s mind, with assistance by Andrea Heilman’s subtle lighting design and Nick Santiago’s brilliant video projection work. Sometimes, it’s a simple outline of houses as Christopher walks down his street. Other times he is surrounded by an infinite universe of planets and stars, a cacophony of numbers or words as sights, or a medly of sonics and sounds bombarding him. Oftentimes the effect is at once both glorious and terrifying.


We learn that quiet, enclosed spaces, strawberry milkshakes and the incorruptible order of mathematics make him feel safe; lies and figurative language confuse him; disorder and aggressiveness cause him to shut down. Numbers, colors, shapes and formulas around him express the vital code by which Christopher makes sense of things.


Aaron Lipp, Rachel McLaughlan, Karen O’Hanlon, Jared Machado, and Holly Jeanne in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” at Chance Theater.

His protracted quest from his suburban home to the alien nerve-center of London in Act II is obviously meant to be the play’s visual design showcase. What is surely a harrowingly suspenseful sequence on stage vividly portrays the sensory overload of the city’s transportation system on a mind like Christopher’s, not conditioned to screening out gratuitous sights and sounds. More evocative and affecting are the threatening moments which cause him to drop to the ground and make a shell of his body, rocking and moaning in a bath of scabrous red light and electrical hissing.


Director Hovis engineers and actualizes each scene honestly and manages to find humor even in the darkest moments. Nothing feels forced, and it’s refreshing that in a production heavy with visual spectacle, the performances are so specific and honest. It’s an intensely physical production as the actors oft-times hurl themselves across the stage, hovering somewhere between an experimental movement piece and full-blown dance. The staging plays with slowed time, patterns, and using people as props to climb on, and at one point has Christopher literally transfixed high above the cast to show how he sees the world. Other times, the cast suddenly become objects in the room.


Jonathon Lamer, Rachel McLaughlan, Aaron Lipp, Holly Jeanne, and Jared Machado in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” at Chance Theater.

Many of the ensemble members get chances to shine as several different colorful characters. Karen O’Hanlon does beautiful work as Judy, Christopher’s mother. She displays a deep well of emotion and can play brutal and angelic all at once. And Casey Long is tremendous as Ed, a father doing his best to care for a child whom he continually struggles to connect with. His balancing act of rage and tenderness provides some of the emotional high points of the story. As Christopher discovers more and more of the truth about his mother and how she left, Ed can see his relationship with him deteriorating and must work to regain his trust.


Rachel McLaughlan portrays numerous roles, including the outraged Mrs. Eileen Shears (owner of Wellington) and her one-line deliveries per character land with perfectly timed aplomb. Jared Machado brings wry humor to his several roles, including the Reverend Peters and the Policeman; and as the needy neighbor, Mrs. Alexander, Holly Jeanne taps into the cloying well of busy-body loneliness. Also, a round of applause to Jonathon Lamer playing various roles with his trademark intensity — especially as the menacing Roger Shears, estranged husband to Eileen.


Jonathon Lamer, Jared Machado, and Aaron Lipp in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” at Chance Theater.

Life is trouble and some of us just function better at it than others. So, the real question is, in a world where seemingly “normal” folk can hide who they are behind an outer “mask,” isn’t it refreshing that young Christopher can’t? We can see everything that he is: he’s quirky, mathematically gifted, yet keenly aware of his ability to see all. He’s emotionally remote and apt to flail wildly at the slightest physical touch, but he cannot pretend. He’s incapable of telling a lie. And isn’t that the real definition of integrity, loyalty and rectitude?


“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” It is a breathtaking theatrical experience that will, at times, not only keep you stunned and mystified, but will also fill you with hope and optimism. Now through October 22nd at Chance Theater. Don’t miss it.


CHANCE THEATER @ BETTE AITKEN theatre arts CENTER, PRESENTS, THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME. A Play by SIMON STEPHENS; Based on the Book by MARK HADDON; Directed and Sound Designed by DARRYL B. HOVIS. Assistant Directed by KENZIE ROBINSON; Scenic Designed by BRUCE GOODRICH; Lighting Designed by ANDREA HEILMAN; Costume Designed by ADRIANA LAMBARRI; Projection Designed by NICK SANTIAGO; Stage Managed by WADE WILLIAMSON.


WITH: AARON LIPP (Christopher); RACHEL OLIVEROS CATALANO (Siobhan); CASEY LONG (Ed); KAREN O’HANLON (Judy); RACHEL MCLAUGHLAN (Mrs. Shears/others); JONATHON LAMER (Roger/others); JARED MACHADO (Police Officer/others); HOLLY JEANNE (Mrs. Alexander/others); BEN GREEN (Police Officer/others/Understudy).


THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME is being presented at CHANCE THEATER from September 22—October 22, on the Cripe Stage, 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, CA 92807. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM; Saturdays at 3PM and Sundays at 3PM. Neurodiverse Community Night—October 13th at 7PM, hosted by Chance Theater, Autism By The Sea, My Day Counts, OC Asperger’s Support Group, Peer 1-on-1, Poppy Life Care & Reimagine. Running time two hours, 30 minutes, with a 15-min intermission. Ticket prices start at $29. For Ticket Reservations, see www.chancetheater.com




Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report





Photos by Doug Catiller








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