“The lights come up. A boy looks down at a dog on the ground with a pitchfork in its side. The lights flash on and off like a heartbeat as the boy looks in horror. Who killed this dog?
The UW Oshkosh — Fox Cities theatre program debuted their first show of the semester last Thursday, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” with performances continuing this week.
“Curious Incident” is a heartwarming and mysterious tale about a scared and confused young boy, Christopher, who sets out to solve the mystery of his neighbor’s dog’s murder. What follows is a series of diversions within Christopher’s community and his own mind.
The play is rich in visual aesthetics and abstract expression. The stage is mostly bare and nearly every actor in the show recites lines off stage to add to the world’s atmosphere and emphasize certain lines of dialogue, yet the show remains a consistently entertaining experience.
“Curious Incident” is a relatively new play, premiering in 2012 at the Royal National Theatre in London that requires fairly sophisticated technology to pull off well. Because the Communications Arts Center at UWOFC is only 10 years old, and because of director Susan Rabideau’s bold ambition, “Curious Incident” is able to be given the production quality it deserves.
Compared to the average production at UW Oshkosh, the production value stands out in UWOFC’s “Curious Incident.” Aside from the unique story, captivating performances and choreography, “Curious Incident” is essentially a light show.
The Lucia Baehman Theatre is a theater in the round, meaning the audience is seated around the entire stage. The numerous high-quality lights and projectors above the stage produce bold and memorable shapes, spotlights and shadows throughout the play that emphasize every line of dialogue.
Though the set design is minimal, using only a train set and some black boxes as stage props, the show’s dynamic lighting makes every scene feel different. Some spotlights shine on only a few square inches of the stage, so choreography has to be perfect. On opening night, no noticeable cue was missed.
A platform stage was made for “Curious Incident” with a rotating circle at its center, further adding to the show’s production value and physical movement. This element, along with the lighting, create a production that feels extremely ambitious and special. Clearly a lot of thought and effort was put into every minute of the show.
Though the stage is small and the audience surrounds it, the actors are given body microphones so they can deliver their dialogue naturally without having to project too much. This makes the experience of watching “Curious Incident” even more intimate.
Adding to the show’s visual appeal is the intense choreography. Throughout the course of the show, characters are constantly moving around to accommodate audience members on all sides of the stage. Sometimes actors are lifted up in the air or use their bodies to resemble parts of the set. Amazingly, nobody tripped over the train set that grows in length over the course of the show.
Since the play’s setting of England is essential to the plot, every actor in “Curious Incident” has the added challenge of using a British accent, which, for the most part, is convincing.
Braden Cooper’s performance as Christopher is the standout. Not only is his accent on point, but he’s believable as a 15-year-old boy with mild autism going through a rollercoaster of emotions. The script asks a lot of Cooper, including memorizing a long series of prime numbers, which he delivers exceptionally well.
Other notable performances come from Ericka Wade as Christopher’s teacher who provides a soothing British voice as she narrates the show reading from Christopher’s journal, and James Fairchild, who plays Christopher’s father Ed with both grace and hostility.
Rabideau balances the serious and humorous tones of “Curious Incident” beautifully, all while being fairly fast-paced. On opening night, the show brought the audience to tears, then just minutes later, had them roaring with laughter.
The only notable flaw in UWOFC’s “Curious Incident” lies in its script. The show takes a while to communicate to its audience what’s going on and what it’s all about, but by the end, it’s a satisfying experience.
UWOFC has shown through “Curious Incident” that their theatre program is a great place to find valuable high-quality entertainment for all UWO students.
UWOFC is continuing performances of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” Nov. 21 and 22 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 23 at 1 p.m. at the Lucia Baehman Theatre in Menasha. Seats can be reserved online at uwosh.universitytickets.com. Student tickets are $12, and well worth it.