Less is so much more when Mixed Blood brings a big show to its small stage

Rich Ryan

Rich Ryan

Bigger isn’t always better. That maxim is as true on stage as anywhere else, a fact amply demonstrated by Mixed Blood Theatre’s moving new production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Simon Stephens’ Tony-winning adaptation of Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel debuted in 2012, and a touring production came to Minneapolis late last year. That version came with an intentionally overwhelming sound-and-light show, as a blank grid surrounding the stage came alive to depict the world as seen through the sensitive eyes of Christopher Boone, a teenager who is on the autism spectrum.

It’s a challenging concept to adapt for smaller stages, but many companies have leapt at the opportunity: Curious Incident is one of the most-produced plays in the country this season. At Mixed Blood, the audiovisual pyrotechnics are necessarily modest, but director Jack Reuler brings us both physically and emotionally close to the story’s heart.

Christopher is played by MacGregor Arney, in a modest and gripping performance that’s worlds away from the touring production’s almost campy take on the character. We see how vulnerable the boy is, and we don’t just applaud his triumphs, we feel like we share in them.

The story is set in motion by Christopher’s discovery of his neighbor’s dog speared to death with a pitchfork. Against the instructions of his father (Zack Myers), Christopher sets out to solve the crime, but the killer’s identity turns out to be just one of a series of revelations that rock the boy’s world by the time the play is over.

The show is a play-within-a-play, and several actors juggle bit parts and set transitions. Kathy Maxwell’s projections serve as a near-constant visual aid, while Eric Mayson contributes new music that fits the electronic palette of original composer Adrian Sutton, but strikes a warmer tone.

Myers, who recently delivered a powerful performance in Mixed Blood’s How to Use a Knife, again demonstrates his ability to balance darkness and light. It’s not until late in the play that we see father and son smile together, but when they do, it’s a hard-earned payoff. As Christopher’s mother, introduced in flashback, Miriam Laube is less restrained. We can understand why she sometimes makes her son feel smothered.

Even in this scaled-down production, Stephens’ script is a bit much. It sags in the transition from whodunit to family drama, and a scene that comes after the curtain call may be a crowd-pleaser, but it ends the show on a jubilant note that’s jarringly discordant with the measured tone the play otherwise achieves.

Still, Mixed Blood’s pained and intimate production finds real resonance in the story’s themes of tolerance, curiosity, and forgiveness. Christopher Boone himself, a partisan of the small and the cozy, would approve.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Mixed Blood Theatre
1501 S. Fourth St., Minneapolis
612-338-6131; through December 10