THE BASICS: 2015 Best Play Tony Award-winning THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME by Simon Stephens based on the novel by Mark Haddon, presented by “All for One” Productions at Shea’s 710 Theatre, directed by David Oliver, opened on October 28 and runs through November 14 Thursdays-Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 1:00 pm. (sheas.org/performances) Full service bar and well-appointed lounge, coat room, snacks. Runtime: 2-1/2 hours with one intermission
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Christopher is a fifteen-year-old with Asperger’s Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and like most such boys as portrayed on TV, movies, and plays, is exceptionally intelligent and highly verbal, but ill-equipped to interpret everyday life. When Christopher falls under suspicion for killing his neighbor’s dog, he sets out to identify the true culprit and despite being told to let it go, he can’t. As his “detecting” (or “snooping” depending on point of view) reveals certain facts, his life becomes even more chaotic in this Tony-Award winning play. Few of us enjoy chaos, and for a boy on the spectrum, it can be, well…. chaotic.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: The cast list is seriously legit with OVER THE TAVERN’s Samuel Fesmire, all grown up (he’s actually in college!), as “Christopher John Francis Boone,” the 15-year-old protagonist. His father, Ed Boone, a boiler engineer, is played by Anthony Alcocer with both roughness and tenderness. And his mom, Mrs. Judy Boone, is Candice Kogut, finally back on stage. At school, Siobhan, Christopher’s para-professional and mentor is Sara Kow Falcone, who early on acts as the play’s narrator, and is a source of comfort and stability in Christopher’s increasingly crazy-making life. We all need a Siobhan in our lives and here she helps us in the audience as this play is a swirl of activity, people, places, lights, and noises.
Without a doubt, Shea’s 710 (the former “Studio Arena”) theater is the nicest, most upscale traditional venue for serious plays we have. The size of the thrust stage, though, requires clever set construction so that the venue doesn’t overwhelm the actors. Fortunately, All For One Productions had Lynne Koscielniak to do their Scenic and Lighting Design, and she worked with Gerry Trentham (Movement Director) and Christopher Ash (Projections Designer, with assistant Brian McMullen) to come up with ways to focus our attention on the key elements of the moment. And there are a lot, and I mean a lot of moments. So the trick is to keep them connected. The sound design by Eric Burlingame underlines the effects and helps make this the smooth production it is.
But are these effects too much? The play is a series of very short scenes, one after another, after another. Keeping forward momentum can be difficult and, indeed, after intermission, things seemed to drag a little (to me, but not to many of those I asked later). Here Koscielniak, Trentham, and Ash really earned their money because the trio came up with enough theatrical razzle dazzle to keep some semblance of forward momentum until things actually did get moving again.
It takes a village, and all the villagers and townspeople, policemen and drunks, friends and neighbors are played with dexterity by the remaining cast: Mrs. Shears, Christopher’s neighbor and the owner of Wellington, the titular dog, is played by Wendy Hall who also magnificently covers a number of utility roles, occasionally getting a huge laugh with just one or two words as the head of Christopher’s school. Roger Shears, Mrs. Shear’s ex-husband, must be a difficult role, without a lot of dialog, but it’s done professionally by Ben Michael Moran, who also covers other roles. The kindly but slightly dotty neighbor Mrs. Alexander (and other roles) is played by Priscilla Young-Anker. And performing a wide variety of characters are Jake Hayes, Pamela Rose Mangus, and David Marciniak. All names we’ve seen many times before and will hopefully see many times in the future. They are on the “A-list” of Buffalo actors.
For all those who have season tickets to the Broadway Series over at the larger Shea’s Performing Arts Center, and also for those who have not been able due to Covid to get over to The Shaw Festival, I know that you love high quality, high energy productions. This is one of those. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen a really good, entertaining stage play, this is for you.
By the way, if the character of Christopher appeals to you as much as to me, you might enjoy, if you don’t already, “The Big Bang Theory” currently in re-runs on a variety of stations including TBS. You’ve probably heard of “Big Bang” but may not know about “Atypical” which has four seasons on Netflix. There we follow teenage Sam on his quest for independence (trailer here).
On Netflix you can also watch the series “Love on the Spectrum” (trailer here).
In 2011, at the corner of Main Street and Tupper, across from the “Theatre District” sign and the plaza of the stars, Shea’s 710 Theatre was the latest space to be added to the Shea’s PAC campus. Formerly the acclaimed Studio Arena, following an up-to-date renovation of the entire theater (both inside and outside), Shea’s 710 re-opened to host many touring productions and partnerships with other popular theater companies including the Shaw Festival. It’s now also the home of All For One Productions, combining the backing and expertise of the Irish Classical Theatre, MusicalFare, Road Less Traveled Productions, Shea’s PAC, and Theater of Youth.
Beginning with this play’s opening on October 28, 2021, all guests at Shea’s Buffalo, Shea’s 710, and Shea’s Smith Theatres must be fully vaccinated for entry for performances. Proof (Excelsior Pass or Vaccination Card) and Photo ID are both required. Masks are also required at all times, except when eating or drinking. P.S. Souvenir “710 Theatre” sippy cups can be purchased and taken into the theater.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!