Adapted by playwright Simon Stephens from Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel, “Curious Incident” is an empathetic character study of an autistic teen who sees the world differently than most. In the hands of co-directors Ryan Rilette and Jared Mezzocchi, this production uses digital projections of hand-drawn scribbles and video game graphics, among other things, to render the inner workings of Christopher’s mind. It’s a mesmerizing marriage of technology and story that echoes the play’s projection-heavy Broadway and West End productions while using Mezzocchi’s distinctive animation (he doubles as the projection designer) to outline a path of its own.
“Curious Incident” depicts Christopher as a mathematical genius with a fondness of prime numbers, a distaste for the colors yellow and brown, and a visceral aversion to physical contact. He lives in a southwest England town with his loving but volatile father, Ed (Cody Nickell), and pet rat, Toby (maybe avoid the front row if you’re squeamish about live rodents). Although the “incident” in question is the grisly slaying of a neighbor’s dog, the play is more interested in deeper mysteries. How does one manage a broken family life? Or learn to navigate an unwelcoming world?
Rilette and Mezzocchi probe these questions with nuance. The central conflict between Christopher and his father unfolds as high drama without playing to the lowest common denominator. The two actors deftly portray a caring, committed relationship in which neither character fully understands the other. Bryan rummages through Christopher’s psyche to find frequent moments of humor and humanity. Nickell digs deep to unearth the layers of a challenging role; his Ed is at times warm, at times terrifying.
The supporting cast is up to the task, as well. Tessa Klein is an endearing source of encouragement as one of Christopher’s teachers, while Tonya Beckman brings depth to the protagonist’s late mother, Judy. And several talented performers take on myriad roles to populate the rest of Christopher’s world. (Kimberly Schraf makes a particularly strong impression as a kindhearted neighbor, and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh also stands out as Christopher’s new, unwilling father figure.)
Choreographers Colette Krogol and Matt Reeves put the ensemble to good use in sequences of entrancing movement, imbuing Christopher’s fantasies with a dreamlike elegance and packing his Act 2 train ride to London with frantic energy. The visuals are striking against the backdrop of Paige Hathaway’s clean, pale set, composed of slightly askew building blocks that suggest both the playfulness of a child and the geometric mind of a mathematician.
In its one significant miscalculation, “Curious Incident” introduces a distracting play-within-a-play conceit. Some metatheatrical gags land a couple of laughs (and set up a charming post-curtain-call epilogue), but they come at the expense of dramatic momentum. That framing device, thankfully, is largely relegated to the background.
When Christopher processes an overwhelming revelation toward the end of Act 1, Bryan’s writhing performance blends with Mezzocchi’s pulsating projections and Andre Pluess’s savvy sound design. As those disparate elements work in harmony to devastating effect, it becomes clear that Rilette and Mezzocchi have cracked the formula, and this “Curious Incident” adds up to even more than the sum of its impressive parts.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Simon Stephens. Directed by Ryan Rilette and Jared Mezzocchi. Set, Paige Hathaway; costumes, Debra Kim Sivigny; lighting, Sherrice Mojgani; sound, Andre Pluess; choreography, Colette Krogol and Matt Reeves; dialects, Melissa Flaim. With Laura C. Harris, Eric Hissom, Kathryn Tkel and Cody Leroy Wilson. About 2 hours 35 minutes. $46-$93. Through Dec. 22 at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda. 240-644-1100. roundhousetheatre.org.