Based on the 2003 bestselling mystery novel by Mark Haddon of the same title, this challenging play adapted by Simon Stephens and precisely directed by Marianne Elliot (who also directed WAR HORSE) has recently opened to mostly rapturous reviews at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.
It is a production of The National Theatre brought over from England and recast with American actors. First and foremost is the Broadway debut of Alex Sharp a recent graduate of Juilliard who by chance and talent got the role of his thus far young lifetime – that of Christopher Boone.
He is phenomenal as a mathematical genius with Asperger’s syndrome who cannot lie and would love to be an astronaut. Christopher is 15 years 3 months and 2 days old at the start of this challenging role. A role where he commands the stage, in fact never leaving it except for the twenty minute intermission. It is a demanding role and Taylor Trensch appears at the matinee performances Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday which I find a rather strange decision.
Alex Sharp has done his homework and works extremely hard during the first act building a model railway – laying down tracks and adding cars and trees and stations as he deftly exhibits the symptoms of Asperger’s as he relentlessly attempts to discover who killed Wellington – a neighbor’s dog – much to the annoyance of his dad Ed (Ian Barford) and Judy (Enid Graham) his mum who have their own marital discord erupting.
With his repetitive behavior, lack of eye contact, awkward movements and mannerisms, his particular love of everything red and his aversion to social interaction and terrible mood swings he finally discovers who killed Wellington and that leads him on another quest in Act Two when he travelers alone to London with his dad’s credit card and his pet rat Toby in search of the answer to another mystery.
We view the world through Christopher’s eyes and his voice. He has written it all down and it is spoken aloud by his special education teacher Siobhan (Francesca Faridany) who suggests doing it as a play. The play that we are seeing.
The technological aspects are stupendous – especially in Act II. You will be amazed by the lighting effects (Paule Constable) video design (Finn Ross) and the human element movements choreographed by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett on the simple grid-like set by Bunny Christie that bring Christopher’s mind to life.
The entire ensemble works at acting and moving set pieces and making Christopher float through the universe and his mum swimming. Especially fine is his dad who finds dealing with Christopher challenging as well and eventually coming to beautiful terms with it.
And so I am amazed and bewildered that I didn’t particularly care for the show with all of its incredible pyrotechnic visuals. Admired it, yes. Loved it, no. I found it lacking in something and I have been trying to discover what that is. Perhaps it’s the alienation factor I felt and/or the abusive treatment that Christopher has to deal with. Or the math. It’s still a mystery to me.
Photos: Joan Marcus
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