Making sense of an inscrutable world

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

One of the most poignant and honest moments in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time happens seconds before the end of the play. Our 15-year-old protagonist, Christopher, is looking at his teacher after a great success and asks a simple question about his future. "I can do anything, can't I?"

His teacher pauses.

Christopher asks again. This time his teacher hesitates and looks out to us in the audience as if we might hold the answer, as if this boy's future promise is in our hands.

It's a powerful moment because Christopher isn't a typical 15 year-old and we in the audience have spent the last two and a half hours getting inside his head.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is told, more or less, through Christopher's perspective. While it's never explicitly mentioned, he is somewhere on the autism spectrum. He has trouble making sense of things that just don't make sense, like metaphors, complicated emotions, rich sensory experiences, human touch.

It's simple stuff like when people tell you to be quiet why don't they tell you how long to be quiet for? That's not really fair is it? And it's complicated stuff -- like where did Mom go and why?

Like all good plays, the idea here is to experience a slice of life through our hero's eyes: to feel the world the way they do. Normally, that has more to do with plot than sensation. This happened, then this happened and this is how I make sense of the world. But what if the world itself doesn't make sense.

With The Curious Incident, we're basically trying to solve the mystery of who killed the neighbor's dog and why -- but plot's not even close to everything. The mystery we're really solving is what would it be like to experience the world like Christopher.

This experience is brought to life through the magic of a really tightly choreographed ensemble and production elements. The set, lights, sound design, projection and movement take us inside the overwhelming amount of information in an urban train station. The jostling on way to the subway becomes a frenetic physical dance where just getting from here to there is a remarkable feat. It's jarring and at times too much, too loud, too bright.

And that's what makes The Curious Incident profound, not simply a coming of age story, or even the journey of a teenager trying to find his way in an inscrutable world. What's profound about this theater, and all good theater, is imagining and experiencing the world through another's perspective.

Which brings us back to that powerful moment at the end. After spending two hours feeling the world the way Christopher does, do we, the audience, see him differently? Will we see him as filled with limitations or filled with possibility? Can he do anything?

I'll bet your answer is different at the end of this play than at the beginning and that alone is reason enough to go.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time plays at the Ahmanson Theater downtown through September 10.

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

Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Adam Langdon as Christopher Boone (C) with the cast of the touring production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. (©2016 Joan Marcus)