This “Curious Incident” is Innovative Entertainment

Review by: Peter Foldy

Christopher John Francis Boone, the lead character  in Simon Stephens’ Tony-winning adaptation of Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, is anything but your normal 15 year old. Christopher knows that adults “do sex” but bristles at human touch. He’s a genious at math and has a mind that is able to observe and remember minute details, but finds the trials and tribulations of everyday life overwhelming. His condition would seem to be Asperger’s but that is never verbally expressed. All we know is that Christopher sees the world differently. That he is a sharp, likeable young man.

The Curious Incident begins with Christopher finding his neighbor’s dog brutally murdered, killed by a garden fork. Strongly identifying with Sherlock Holmes, our young protagonist sets out to discover the killer’s identity, only to conclude that his own father, Ed, committed the deed. Fearing for his own life, Christopher runs away. Makes what is for him a difficult journey by train from Swindon to London to find and reunites with his mother, Judy. Told by his father that she died of a heart attack, mom clearly feels guilt for having abandoned Christopher and is happy to reignite their relationship.

Christopher eventually returns to Swindon, aces an important math test and reunites with his dad.

While the stakes here may read as simplistic, The Curious Incident is an intelligently conceived, entertaining theatrical experience, it’s execution nothing short of brilliant.

Marianne Elliott’s direction is imaginative and fluid, making powerful use of what at first appears to be a minimalistic set by Bunny Christie. The stage resembles the inside of a box, but the sound design and video projection by Finn Ross and the lighting design by Paule Constable smoothly transform it, among other things, into streets, escalators and train tracks. The visual and aural aspects play an important part of the show and distract us from any bumps in the story line.

Curious Incident is blessed with a highly talented cast. Adam Langdon as Christoper is fully committed in his role. He is agile, confident and likable, with an impressive amount of dialogue that he handles with ease. Langdon allows us a glimpse into Christopher’s soul and he makes us care. In a short scene after the curtain call, Christopher reappears to solve a math problem posed earlier in the show. This last little tag is a clever touch and, incase you were not already convinced, clearly demonstrates the character’s astute intelligence.

Felicity Jones Latta and Gene Gillette as Christopher’s parents and Maria Elena Ramirez as his teacher, who narrates some of the play, are especially strong but the entire ensemble works hard to bring the caper to life.

Winner of 5 Tony awards on Broadway, this touring production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time should not be missed. It is a timely show that compels you to focus, learn and listen as it thoroughly entertains.

Where: Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays; ends Sept. 10 (call for exceptions)

Tickets: $25-$130 (subject to change)

Information: (213) 972-4400 or www.centertheatregroup.org

Running time: 2 hour, 30 minutes (including intermission)

 

“War Horse” Begins Performances at Ahmanson on June 14th, 2012

West Coast Premiere of the Powerful, Tony Winning Drama Opens Friday, June 29

The National Theatre production of “War Horse” begins performances Thursday, June 14 at 8 p.m. at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre. Performances for the powerful drama will continue through July 29, 2012. Opening is set for June 29.

The National Theatre’s epic “War Horse” is the winner of five 2011 Tony® Awards including Best Play. Michael Morpurgo’s novel “War Horse” is also the inspiration for Steven Spielberg’s feature film of the same name, which has garnered six Oscar nominations including Best Picture.

Hailed by The New York Times as “theatrical magic,” “War Horse” is the powerful story of young Albert’s beloved horse, Joey, who has been enlisted to fight for the English in World War I. In a tale the New York Daily News calls “spellbinding, by turns epic and intimate,” Joey is caught in enemy crossfire and ends up serving both sides of the war before landing in no man’s land. Albert, not old enough to enlist, embarks on a treacherous mission to find his horse and bring him home. What follows is a remarkable tale of courage, loyalty and friendship, filled with stirring music and songs and told with the some of the most innovative stagecraft of our time.

American Idiot’s National Tour Delivers

Review by Peter Foldy

From the moment the curtain opens, “American Idiot,” wrapping up a successful run at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. It’s a jaw dropping moment as the cast explode onto the dazzling set fueled with high octane and youthful exuberance singing, “don’t want to be an American idiot,” with an energy that is sustained throughout the entire production.

Based on a successful concept album by punk rock band, Green Day, the story deals with three disaffected young men, Johnny (Van Hughes), Tunny (Scott J. Campbell) and Will (Jake Epstein) who try to bail from the restraints of suburbia and head for the city to search for direction and perhaps a chance to express themselves. Maybe to make their voices heard.

The action takes place in a turbulent post 9/11 America and as we all remember, they were confusing and uncertain times.

Our characters certainly think so.  Tunny quickly grows disenchanted with the city and gravitates toward the military. Will stay home to work on his relationship with his soon to be pregnant girlfriend while Johnny dives into his new life with wild abandon, first falling in lust and later almost drowning as an addiction to heroin threatens to ruin his life.

As their individual stories unfold we are treated to episodes of passion, rage, humor more rage and sensual flying dreams, all loosely bound together by a series of short dispatches Johnny conveys to his mother back in the suburbs.

The music in this show is exceptional, the performers highly gifted. Every last person in the cast of twenty get their moment to shine, even the excellent band members who are on stage the entire time. But it is Van Hughes as “Johnny” who revs the engine and firmly grabs the wheels of this fast moving vehicle. His quirky, sweet, offbeat personality, even when he is high on heroin, is never short of compelling.  Sometimes you want to smack him, but mostly you want to give him a hug and say, hang in there buddy.  It’s gonna be okay.

Gabrielle McClinton as Johnny’s girl friend, “Whatsername” tries to do just that.  She is a grounding, soothing character that balances the manic Johnny’s lust for life, taming him briefly with her body and joining him in his experimentation with drugs.

Yet one of the most moving arcs is that of Tunny who returns from war a wounded soldier, both emotionally and physically. He is a boy who has grown to be a man and is finally able to find love, ending up the only character that does.

Scott J. Campbell wears his heart on his sleeve, even when he tries to be brave. Campbell’s performance is both touching and heartbreaking.

The choreography in the show is kinetic and jerky but so perfect and so much fun to watch.  I found myself saying how do they do that?  Steven Hoggett has done an excellent job here.

And then there is the aforementioned set. It is a maze of windows and doors, graffiti and flat screen televisions, playing cryptic images and messages that are woven into the fabric of the show.  It is impressive.  So are the flying sequences between Campbell and his nurse and later his love interest, a talented Nicci Claspell.

“American Idiot” truly rocks.  Not since “Hair” in the late sixties has a musical been this innovative, this fresh while still managing to touch your heart.

Directed by Michael Mayer, “American Idiot” has a few more days left in L.A. so there is still some time, though probably only a few tickets.

They do hold a lottery for a number of front row seats at a cost of only $30.00.  Get there at least an hour and a half before the show to register.   This is one “Idiot” that is well worth the effort.