By Thomas Marin // Staff Writer
Adapted from the best-selling novel by Mark Haddon, director Victoria Collado makes the best of the screenplay by Simon Stevens with the help of a dedicated ensemble and ingenious set design.
At the center of this play, we found Christopher (Cristian Torres), a neurodivergent adolescent gifted with more intelligence and memory than he would like. Living with his father (Alex Camacho) and dealing with the recent loss of his mother (Daniella Valdivieso), Christopher encounters a horrifying distraction in the murder of the neighbor’s dog.
Accused of being responsible for the creature’s fate, Christopher embarks on an investigation to discover who murdered Wellington and (most importantly for him) why.
At least, that is what the description of the play and the first act would make you believe.
It doesn’t take long for the narrative to shift gears from the mystery to the family drama of Christopher’s life. A key role is played by Siobhan (Clarissa Fleurimond), Christopher’s professor and guide, who serves as a mother figure for him and as narrator for the audience. Fleurimond is particularly convincing in portraying the encouraging, wise, and gentle Siobhan.
The drama is anchored by moving, spirited performances of a well-ingrained cast that brings living and authenticity to their multiple roles. The main cast compellingly navigates the drama, although often their efforts are drowned by the melodramatic nature of the screenplay (especially in the second act), which also wears down the possible multidimensionality of their characters.
The least affected by this aspect is Christopher, who comes alive in Torres’s compelling portrayal, which balances its subject with a perfect mix of gravity and lightheartedness.
However, the most exciting aspect of the play is how it shows the mental processes and the inner world of its protagonist in a way that is engaging, visually appealing, and humorous. The sets and the actors work as the actual place where events are occurring but also as manifestations inside Christopher’s mind. (The choreography and the blocking are particularly well-thought).
The intent behind this is to show the audience the way someone with autism thinks and feels and how that explains their behavior and reactions. The technical display is as inventive and affecting as the performances, and the overall design is practical and appealing.
Something a bit perplexing was the need of the play to emulate its book-within a book format inherited from the novel. It is at best unnecessary and at worst confusing for the audience. And there is really no apparent reason for why this should be a play within a play. The content is already translated perfectly without the need for an extra layer in the narrative (although it does work for the last joke of the play).
The center of the work is knowing and understanding intimately how Christopher works as a person. The play largely succeeds in this aspect, and its most heartwarming moments will stick to the mind of the viewers despite the occasional dull or repetitive overdramatic character interaction.