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Asperger Syndrome is a very real and at times devastatingly serious mental disorder, but it also has a parallel life as what can only be described as a pop-culture phenomenon. (Serial murder and gluten intolerance fall into the same double-barreled category.) This explains some, if by no means all, of the popularity of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,” Mark Haddon’s best-selling 2003 children’s novel about a teenaged math prodigy whose obsessive-compulsive behavior and emotional inaccessibility drive a wedge into his parents’ marriage. Simon Stephens turned it into a play two years ago, and it has now moved to Broadway after a successful run in London.
What works about Mr. Stephens’ play is that for most of its length, it paints an unprettified picture of the havoc that Asperger and other autism spectrum disorders can wreak, both on those who suffer from them and on their families as well. Not until the last scene, when “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” suddenly loses altitude and gets sentimental, does it fail to be honest about the plight of Christopher (Alex Sharp), who is so detached from his feelings that when his father (Ian Barford) tells him that his mother (Enid Graham) has just died of a heart attack, his only response is “What kind of heart attack?” Anyone who has seen the dire effects of such disorders up close will be dazzled (if that’s the word) by Mr. Sharp’s performance, which is accurate to the last agonizing detail. In addition, Marianne Elliott has staged “Curious Incident” with quick fluidity and a pleasing knack for visual fantasy…
What’s wrong with Ms. Elliott’s production, which is a remounting of the original National Theatre staging, is that she smothers the play in fantastically elaborate video projections designed by Finn Ross whose purpose is to suggest the sensory overload that can overwhelm people like Christopher when they try to explore the chaotic world outside their heads. The virtuosity of these effects gets in the way of the viewer’s imaginative participation in Christopher’s inner life, which Mr. Sharp is more than capable of evoking on his own….
Thanks to the monetizable presences of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, the Broadway debut of Terrence McNally’s “It’s Only a Play,” a 1982 comedy set at the opening-night party for an unsuccessful play, is already the hottest ticket in town—and rightly so. This revival, which also stars F. Murray Abraham (who has great fun playing a suppuratingly self-important drama critic), Stockard Channing (who steals the show as a washed-up, coke-snorting movie star), Rupert Grint and Megan Mullally and is directed with cattle-prodding energy by Jack O’Brien, is as funny as the new Broadway revival of “You Can’t Take It With You” tries too hard to be.
Mr. McNally has revised “It’s Only a Play,” transplanting it into our latter-day cyberworld of selfies and chatrooms and updating the topical references (“Annie” is out, “Matilda” in). It might have worked just as well as a period piece, in much the same way that “The Man Who Came to Dinner” is now a time capsule of America’s nascent celebrity culture circa 1939. Given the results, though, why complain?…
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To read my review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, go here.
To read my review of It’s Only a Play, go here.