Adam Langdon and the company of 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,' opening at the Denver Center on May 30. Photo by Joan Marcus.
'This is something only theatre can do,' Colorado
actor Gene Gillette says of The Curious Incident ...
By John Moore
Senior Arts Journalist
It’s not often you hear people talk about a play with the same kind of visceral enthusiasm normally reserved for, say, a big Broadway musical. But Colorado native Gene Gillette promises The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time “is going to blow you out of your seat, man.”
Curious Incident, winner of Best Play and four other 2015 Tony Awards, is one of the most widely praised and technically complex plays, well, ever — and one of the few to tour the country. A traveling production is the rare opportunity for heartland audiences to see a play staged to its full Broadway standards.
Gillette, who was born in Evergreen and grew up in Franktown, plays Ed, father to a 15-year-old boy named Christopher who is exceptionally intelligent but ill-equipped to interpret everyday life.
“Christopher has an extraordinary set of abilities, and this play is a fully immersive, deep dive inside his brain,” said Gillette. “Just seeing what that magical world looks like on a stage is pretty awe-inspiring. There are some amazing technical elements with the set and the sound and the lighting, but it’s really how they all physically interact with the actors that is so remarkable.”
The play, written by Simon Stephens and adapted from Mark Haddon’s best-selling 2003 novel, begins with Christopher falling under suspicion for killing his neighbor’s dog. He then sets out to identify the true culprit, which leads to an earth-shattering discovery and a journey that will change the boy’s life forever.
A renowned British company called Frantic Assembly is responsible for integrating the human and technical elements that make it possible for Christopher to fly or to stand in the middle of a bustling London train station. Some sequences take place entirely in Christopher’s head.
“This is something only theatre can do,” Gillette said.
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Tony Award-winner Marianne Elliott directed the play for the National Theatre in London and then on Broadway, where it ran for almost two years. That’s an extraordinary achievement for a non-musical, although the expansive and fluid show functions in some ways like a musical.
“The secret weapon of this show is, to my mind, pretty simple,” wrote Chicago Tribune theatre critic Chris Jones. “There is a fearless, laser-like focus on telling the entire story from Christopher’s point of view.”
Christopher’s dissociative disorder is never given a label. “He is very good with math. He loves Sherlock Holmes. And he loves his clinical, detached way of looking at the world,” Gillette said. “Solving the mystery of who killed the neighbor’s dog is very thrilling to him. But he also doesn’t like to be touched, which is very difficult for me, playing his father. He doesn’t have any friends. He enjoys being alone and he talks about how amazing it would be to be an astronaut and see the Milky Way. So he has a kind of bittersweet outlook on life.”
Elliott says Christopher is very much aware of how he, “as a tiny human, fits into the vast universe.” And that’s exactly why audiences so easily identify with him — even if they can’t fully understand how his brain works.
“This is a show about a boy enduring in spite of himself,” Elliott said.
Gillette understands his stage son better than most might. He recognizes a little of himself in the boy.
At age 13, Christopher learned that his mother died. Gillette lost his mother to cancer when he was 5, which led to a troubled adolescence. He credits theatre for helping him make it to adulthood at all. He said it was watching theatre at The Buell Theatre, located right next to The Ellie, where he will be performing in Curious Incident, that he found his direction in life.
“The first play I ever saw was the national tour of Biloxi Blues in 1986 at The Buell Theatre, and that changed everything,” Gillette said.
Coming soon: Our expanded profile of Colorado's Gene Gillette
His seminal performances on Colorado stages included playing Hamlet at the Denver Civic Theatre, John Proctor in the Arvada Center’s The Crucible and a particularly chilling turn as a child killer in Curious Theatre’s death-row drama Coyote on a Fence. He won The Denver Post Ovation Award in 2008 for his darkly funny turn in Curious’ The Lieutenant of Inishmore as an alternately savage and sweet Irish madman.
Gillette’s biggest break came two years ago when he joined the national touring production of the National Theatre’s War Horse, also directed by Elliott. Gillette was recovering from his own near-death battle with cancer when he landed the role of Ed in Curious Incident. Gillette said if Ed were a real person, the two would probably be good friends.
“Ed is a guy you would want to watch a football game with,” Gillette said. “He’s a good dude. He runs his own company. But he has all kinds of challenges in his family. He’s got a lot of weight on his shoulders, but he’s doing the best he can.”
Some of the reporting for this story was provided from a story by Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: Ticket Information
• May 30-June 18
• The Ellie Caulkins Opera House
• Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
• Groups: Call 303-446-4829
• ASL, Audio-Described and Open-Captioned performance 2 p.m. June 11
Previous NewsCenter coverage of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time:
Casting announced for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
2016-17 season: Nine shows, two world premieres, return to classics