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‘Curious Incident’ proves demanding for cast

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Wednesday through Jan. 22

Winspear Opera House, Dallas


214-880-0202; www.attpac.org

Posted 3:32pm on Monday, Jan. 09, 2017

You can count on one hand the number of plays that, in the past 10 years, have embarked on large national tours at the country’s performance halls with upward of 2,000 seats — the places where Broadway subscription series are reserved for spectacle-laden musicals.

Those involved in the current tour of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time understand they’re in rare company, along with other touring plays August: Osage County, Peter and the Starcatcher and War Horse.

“This circuit is tricky,” says Felicity Jones Latta, who plays Judy, mother of the central character, Christopher, in the tour, which opens Wednesday for two weeks in the Broadway Series at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House. “When you’re looking for plays with a lot of nuance, it’s tough to play the big halls. As performers, we have to up our level to get to that upper balcony.”

Curious Incident, adapted by Simon Stephens from the 2003 novel by Mark Haddon, tells the story of Christopher, an intelligent 15-year-old boy with “behavioral issues” — some have suggested he is on the autism spectrum, but that diagnosis is never made by Haddon or Stephens — who is accused of killing a neighbor’s dog. He begins a journey to find the truth.

The play debuted in London and won the Olivier Award for best new play (the equivalent of America’s Tonys) in 2013. It transferred to Broadway, and won the 2015 Tony for best play.

Directed by Marianne Elliott (who also directed War Horse, another show that began in London), the staging of Curious Incident — heavy on lighting effects and physical-theater movement by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett of dance group Frantic Assembly — is what draws audiences in. But it’s the story that keeps them spreading the word-of-mouth.

“Think of it as a mixture of [something like] Hamlet and Cirque du Soleil,” says Adam Langdon, who plays Christopher. “It’s physical theater and the lights are awesome, but it’s always very human. It’s about family. It’s so incredibly well-written; it’s beautiful and it’s heartwarming and it’s sad and it’s witty and funny. It’s got a lot going on.”

As for the controversy that Christopher might have something like Asperger’s, even though that’s never said, “we remain faithful to that,” Langdon says. “Mark and Simon never diagnosed Christopher. He’s incredible at math, and has connections with animals and his teacher, and when certain things happen, he says, ‘I’m not going to deal with that because I don’t have to.’ Sometimes I wish I could do that.”

“What’s important to us is that whatever it is that he has, he has not been diagnosed,” adds Latta. “The people can’t treat him as he has a specific thing because they don’t know, so they’re dealing with a person who’s acting a certain way, and that creates problems. … It’s a story of how people deal with each other and how the family figures out how to love.”

This staging did present a different kind of rehearsal process for the actors, many of whom have Broadway and regional credits heavy in straight plays. Latta was a 10-year artistic associate of Minneapolis’ now-defunct and Tony-winning Theatre de la Jeune Lune, which was big on ensemble creation and development of new work.

“It’s not so different with this. I am a principal in the show. We are all working together to tell the story as a group,” Latta says.

Still, rehearsal was grueling.

“We rehearsed in New York and the first hours of every day was boot camp, with strength training and coordination and balance to get everyone on the same level,” Latta says. “We do a lot of lifting [other performers] and choreography, so the physical aspects of the show are quite the workout. Then we’d do scene work after lunch.”

For Langdon, who’s fresh out of Juilliard School, it was intense. “Usually it’s table and scene work when rehearsing a play, but this was weeks of working out and three hours of movement.”

“[The movement] really shapes the play,” he adds. “[Christopher] wants to be an astronaut and there’s a scene where he’s ‘flying around in space,’ supported by the other actors.”

And in many ways, that’s what ensemble pieces of any kind of theater are all about.

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