Wednesday, September 27, 2017

"The Curious Incident Of A Guy Who Didn't Like A Play Everyone Else Liked And The Ongoing Mystery Why"

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (a play written by Simon Stephens based on a novel written by Mark Haddon, but I am talking about the play I didn’t like rather than the novel I did.)

Winner (the play, not the novel) of…

– Seven Laurence Olivier Awards (and he was good, so you know they’re important), including “Best New Play”, and running in the West End (England’s Broadway) for over 1600 performances, meaning not only did the critics enjoy it, regular people did too.)

– Five (Broadway) Tony Awards, including “Best Play”, where it ran for two years, meaning not only did regular Englishers enjoy it, regular Americans do too.

– The Drama Desk Award for “Outstanding Play”, the Outer Critics Circle Award for “Outstanding New Broadway Play”, the Drama League Award for “Outstanding Production of a Broadway or Off-Broadway Play.”

Plus glowing critical accolades, such as (As seen plastered on billboards):  A brilliant production!“Dazzling!” and “An extraordinary accomplishment!”  

So there is the possibility I am wrong about this.

(One critic called the show “manipulative” but it feels like me and that guy against the world.)

It’s a funny thing, to respond to…

Wait.  Two other things first.  Possibly three.  I haven’t decided yet.

I realize, accept and unquestionably acknowledge and that any creative endeavor triggers a limitless possibility of individual reactions.  The artist puts something out there and, since it is not a math problem or “What’s the capital of Romania?” (Bucharest; I looked it up), there is no “right answer” to “How did you like it?”


Even though there is no “right answer” to “How did you like it?” it remains difficult for me to understand how a single artistic entity can generate not just disparate but diametrically opposite responses.  (See: The “all-over-the-map” reviews for Best of the West.  Which you probably can’t actually see anywhere; I used “See” as synonymous with “Consider”, or “For example:”)

How, I have always wondered, can they have such contrasting reactions to the same program?

If something is good – “good”, for me, meaning it ably achieves its creative intentions – I can understand a positive or negative or mixed reaction based on, “Although they admittedly did a good job achieving their creative intentions, I am unenthusiastic about ultimate result.”  Possibly because, although those “creative intentions” are satisfactorily achieved, “I do not give a hoot about westerns.”  Or because “I understand what they were going for but their approach is not exactly to my liking.”  Or “Because the neighborhood kids refused to allow me to play “cowboys” with them I have taken it out on everything ‘cowboy’ ever since.”

That person wasn’t reviewing the show.  They were essentially, unconsciously, reviewing themselves.  Which… wait a minute… may be the source of my reaction to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  (An explanation that came to me – swear to Gosh – just now.  Well not just now, but as I was writing the previous sentence.  A surprising insight.  Startling and gratifying.)

Considering my assessment of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, I have the belated feeling that, like the reviewer experiencing a coloring “intervention” in the normally objective evaluative process, I too may have indeed been “reviewing myself.”

To this point, I have cleverly – or annoyingly, depending on your proclivity in this regard – written… hold on, I am checking the “Word Count”…okay…  567 words – not including “hold on, I am checking the ‘Word Count’… okay…”  without mentioning anything about the play, except that I did not like it.

Briefly, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time concerns a fifteen year-old boy, diagnosed as being on the more…I don’t want to say “disturbed”… diagnosed as being on the more afflicted end of the “autistic spectrum”, who discovers a dead dog that was killed with a “garden fork”, and is determined to uncover the mystery of who did it.

I actually remember that plotline from the book, which I read years ago, and, as I said, thoroughly enjoyed at the time.  (I may have neglected to say “thoroughly” but I did.)  I was intrigued by the idea of an imperfect narrator/slash/crime solver.  For who is this story’s afflicted protagonist other than a more extreme version of the character’s fictional hero, Sherlock Holmes?

But where the book describes the character’s braving the intense “sensory overload” of a solo excursion from a relatively protected local community to the chaotic cacophony of megalopolis London (to locate his mother), the play physically “duplicates” that disorienting experience, via imaginative lighting and theatrical “effects”, which, themselves, garnered numerous awards.

Why did that, and many other elements depicting the character’s “autistic spectrum” condition so discombobulate me to the point where, on several occasions, I wanted to escape the pummeling stimuli of the production?

The answer, it now occurs to me, is that, somewhere along that “autistic spectrum” though to a demonstrably lesser degree, the character portrayed in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

… is me.

A fact I unconsciously reacted to as I was watching it.  As the play unfolded, many of the protagonist’s defining characteristics appeared eminently familiar to me, the need for “comforting order” being a primary, though not singular, example.  (There is also the sense of personal isolation and a nagging obsession with the truth.)

I found myself viscerally identifying with the protagonist’s effort (in London) to combat the crippling confusion of a dizzying “Unknown.”  When the play’s bombarded lead character felt maddeningly “close to the edge”, sitting in “Row C, Seat 4”,

… so did I.

But at least I realized that.  I have never once read a review that said, “Hey, don’t listen to me this time.  My reaction to this production is… let’s just say, because of the way I am, I cannot be close to objective in my critique.  Come back when what I am reviewing is less about me and more about the show.  I promise, this will not happen that often.  Though it did happen this time.”

Have you ever seen anything like that?  I haven’t.  The phenomenon must occur sometimes, don’t you think?  And yet not a peep from the reviewers.

As contrasted with this post, explaining that although The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been widely praised and commercially popular,

I really wanted to go home.

But we didn’t. 

Because we had paid for the tickets.  And, because of the personal reaction it set off, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was, in fact, successfully

… doing its job.

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