A big play in a tiny space

Hosted by

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Photo credit: Philicia Endelman

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

A couple of years ago "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" was a big play.

By big I mean it got a Broadway production, it won Tony awards, it went on a national tour - you know, big play.

But here's the thing, it's not really a big play in a broadway sense.  It's a really beautiful small play that found it's big-ness.

At it's core it's a wonderful ensemble play where a small group of actors not only play a bunch of roles - they make a whole world.

This is the magic of the production at the Greenway Court a 99-seat theatre.  They rediscover the heart of the play in an intimate setting.

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" is a mystery that swirls around Christopher - a fifteen year-old boy who's probably somewhere on the autism spectrum.  We experience the play through his senses - which is part of what gives the show it's power and unique charm.

The play's mystery seems simple at first.  That dog, from the title, is found dead, murdered.  Our protagonist, Christopher, is mistakenly accused of the crime and after he's vindicated - he makes it his mission to solve this curious incident.

Like any good whodunnit following the clues just leads to bigger questions.  Structurally, the mystery of the dog’s death fuels most of act one until the deeper mysteries of family history take over.

The Greenway Court production succeeds brilliantly with Christopher and that first mystery.  In a small space the immediacy of Christopher's overloaded senses become all the more present.  We experience viscerally what being in an overwhelming and mystifying world feels like. And that initial dramatic engine of who killed the dog drives us through act one.

Where things feel a little less surefooted are when the play shifts gears from a solvable crime -- "who killed a pet?" -- to the more unknowable or uncertain questions... "what makes a family?" or "who do we love and at what cost?"

What starts as a simple story told through the eyes of a boy becomes a more complicated family drama. That's part of what helped the play's unique voice find those big productions.  Without giving too much away, the second half of the play is about watching a broken family try to heal itself. We see this story in little snippets but we need those tiny details to do a lot of heavy lifting.  They are where the emotional payoff comes.

For all the magic of the Greenway Court's production, these little details don't pack the punch they need to and don't ground the second half of the story. 

But if you missed "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time," this is a great chance to see a big play in an intimate space. 

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" plays at the Greenway Court Theatre in Hollywood through December 

For info on the show and to subscribe to the weekly KCRW theatre newsletter, check out: kcrw.com/theatre.