The Lake Country Players are blessed with an intimate jewel-box theater in downtown Hartland. I probably would never have encountered them if my friend Kimberly Laberge hadn’t invited me out to witness her presentation of Cabaret! You can read my response here. So I have been following them since but haven’t been able to get out to the land of my youth to take in another performance…until now!
And then came that fateful email announcing the run of: The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time…the longest title of the season of course made me; curious. But then the intriguing synopsis of the play had me hooked. And I’ll share that with you first:
THE STORY: 15-year-old Christopher has an extraordinary brain: He is exceptional at mathematics but ill-equipped to interpret everyday life. He has never ventured alone beyond the end of his road, he detests being touched, and he distrusts strangers. Now it is 7 minutes after midnight, and Christopher stands beside his neighbor’s dead dog, Wellington, who has been speared with a garden fork. Finding himself under suspicion, Christopher is determined to solve the mystery of who murdered Wellington, and he carefully records each fact of the crime. But his detective work, forbidden by his father, takes him on a thrilling journey that upturns his world.
Yes, that’s exactly what it is…but this will not prepare you for the amazing journey you will be provided by the story nor the amazing theater you about to experience via Director James Baker, Jr. and The Lake Country Players. The play itself is an adaptation for the stage by Simon Stephens from the novel by Mark Haddon. The book itself has been banned a number of times, mostly for harsh language and adult conversations. The LCP recommends their presentation for those 13 and older.
Once in our seats, we have a prologue from the director, who gives us a bit of background on the story and the play. This little introduction is very helpful and sets the mood for what we are about to see. And then there’s the proviso that LCP is presenting the script as written which includes the warning about the harsh language…and then the perennial warning to turn off our cell phones.
Our protagonist is Christopher Moore, a young man of incredible math skills and deductive talents but challenged in ways most of us can’t comprehend. He will clearly exhibit his skills and sensitivities throughout the play. We initially find him huddled over Wellington, a dog belonging to the family neighbor, Mrs. Shears. Christopher is clearly distraught and isn’t ready for the journey he is about to embark on when Mrs. Shears finds him in her yard with her dead pet.
Adam Frontera is Christopher Stone, and he proves to be an accomplished actor in an incredibly challenging role for a young man. He maintains his persona…something our 21st Century audience will label as Asperger’s Syndrome or on the spectrum. But Frontera is able to maintain the gestures, gait, facial expressions, deliberate concentration, and verbal idiosyncrasies and cadence that we tend to identify with similar young people. Really amazing given the number of lines and different actions the scenes require and the fact that Frontera in almost always on stage during the two hour play.
Frontera brings us along on his journey. He makes sure that we can’t feel anything but empathy for his situation. He works the text to bring out the bits of humor and elicits subtle moments of laughter. And we certainly are made to feel those moments of sadness that bring a tear and then later those moments of accomplishment that bring that other type of tear. I was moved far far beyond my expectations. I hope we see Frontera on stage again soon.
So yes this story is built around Christopher’s point(s) of view. And Director Baker has solidly built a stage world that provides us with that. Besides Frontera, the stage is full of other actors, many of whom play multiple roles in multiple settings. And at times the action can be a little confusing but; welcome to Christopher’s world. But if you get lost, the back wall has a projected label to tell us the setting we are currently experiencing. And there between Baker’s staging and Frontera’s performance, even I began to distrust and question the actions and motives of the adults in the play. Well, except one.
Jen Anderson plays Christopher’s teacher, Siobhan, who seems to be the only adult that he really trusts. And she seems a calming force in his life and provides support and encouragement throughout the play. But sometimes I wasn’t sure if her presence was in real time or Christopher’s memory…but it didn’t matter…it worked for him. Anderson clearly exhibited the empathy that the role required.
The other two major characters are Christopher’s parents. There is a disturbed family dynamic here that I am not going to go into but it is a driving force in Christopher’s growth. Zackery Henke is Ed, Christopher’s father and his parental guardian through much of the play. And Leysa Miner is Judy, Christopher’s mother. Their relationship is fraught with issues and their relationships to Christopher are distinctly different and can suddenly change with the situation.
But back to Wellington. Christopher takes on finding his killer as a ‘project’. And that starts to open doors that many adults would like to keep closed. And then, in what appears to be the first willful action of his own, Christopher continues his investigation despite his father’s direct order to stop and several other adults’ admonitions to listen to his father. But that one willful step leads to another and another until he finds the complete story and discovers the murderer and discovers something of himself. And he finally asks one penultimate question of Siobhan which goes unanswered. And I am still trying to figure out whether her cautious silence and pensive look are a positive or negative reaction.
This is an incredible play. This is an incredible staging. I didn’t expect to find either when I took my seat in the playhouse. The topics too are difficult but they need to be discussed on stage and Baker and the Lake Country Players should be applauded for taking this on. And audiences should take up the risk and challenge as well and see this play in Hartland.
The play runs through May 26, 2023 at Lake Country Playhouse, 221 East Capitol Drive Hartland, WI, 53029. Click here for more information and ticket availability!
P.S. You might want to bone up on your prime numbers before attending!