HNAT AWESOME IN "THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME"
photo by Tim Fuller
Hunter Hnat becomes behavior-challenged Christopher in "Curious Incident" at the Rogue Theatre.                    

Hunter Hnat's concentrated performance as behavior-challenged 15-year-old Christopher is astounding in the Rogue Theatre's imagination stretching production of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Adapted to the stage by Simon Stephens from the populaar book by Mark Haddon, “Curious Incident” is really about the curious and jaw-dropping determination of Christopher to reach his mom in London. She has been sadly estranged from his dad for quite awhile.

As directed by Cynthia Meier, the tale is told using a considerable amount of theatrical affectations that add fanciful elements, making Christopher's journey feel more like an adventure into the unknown reaches of Outer Space.

In several reviews appearing online much is made of Christopher's afflictions. Is he autistic? Does he have symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome? We don't know. Neither Haddon or Stephens mention a specific medical condition.

We do learn Christopher is a genius in math and equally genius at noting not just the number of cows in a herd beside the road, but  the number of brown ones, black ones and multi-colored ones as well.

But Christopher gets easily startled, panics in the presence of certain bright colors and can't stand to be touched, not in any way, not by anyone. He also has an awkward way of talking, which takes a little getting used to.

All of this Hnat achieves with complete conviction. His creating this combination of brilliance and helplessness is a praiseworthy artistic achievement, earned without any cheap tricks or cheesy sentiments.

“Curious Incident” is set up for a cast of 10. Looking after Christopher are his father Ed (Ryan Parker Knox) and his mother Judy (Holly Griffith) and his special ed counseler Siobhan (Patty Gallagher). Six additional actors sit at the back of the stage to jump into a variety of short roles.

The play opens harshly with the startling image of a large dog lying dead with a garden spade stuck in its chest. Then we meet Christopher, distressed that no one is trying to find out who killed the neighbor's dog.

Wirh his gifted eye for detail and his admiration for the delilberate methodology of Sherlock Holmes, Christopher sets out to uncover the perpetrator.

As Christopher uses deduction to narrow the list of suspects he begins to discover more things about his absent mom. And in the process we become drawn to his endearing determination.

At the same time, we sense the depths of his father's frustration. By intermission all the adults are in a spin, while Christopher with his bountiful innocence turned into confidence, has decided to strike out alone for London in search of his mom.

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" runs through Nov.18 with performances at  7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, in the Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd. Some shows have sold out.

Tickets are $35, student rush $15. For details and reservations, 520-551-2053, theroguetheatre.org

"GOOD PEOPLE " IS INSIGHTFUL AND SCALDING
photo by Creatista
From left, Mike (Tony Caprile), Margaret (Maria A. Caprile) and Kate (Carley Elizabeth Preston) disagree on what it takes to become wealthy in "Good People."

David Lindsay-Abaire was at the top of his game writing “Good People,” which feels profound and definitely deserves a better title. It opened on Broadway in March, 2011, receiving a Tony nomination for Best Play.

Boldly stepping into shoes reminiscent of Arthur Miller, Lindsay-Abaire has shaped a discourse on modern social values using the format of classic theater dialogue, debunking today's liberals who insist on equality in all things – particularly when it comes to our classless society.

The venerable Winding Road Theatre Ensemble, now into its 10th anniversary season, took the bait for this convincing drama and ran with it to bring us a scorching Act Two performed by Maria A. Caprile, Tony Caprile and Carley Elizabeth Preston that is the equal of any theater company in these parts.

You can count on leaving the show with a finer appreciation for the struggle of justifying one's own success in life, whether rich, poor or somewhere in between.

The playwright suggests that instead of believing poor people are just wealthy people with bad luck, what if poor people really are somewhat to blame for their inability to get any financial traction in life?

What if those rich people, who say they have worked hard and deserve all their wealth, also have a deep streak of arrogance? What if they actually do believe they are more deserving than anybody else – mainly becase they are willing to work harder than anybody else – especially all those other lazy kids in high school?

With a meticulous shading of phrases and pauses, Lindsay-Abaire is posing all the tough questions as working class Margaret (Maria A. Caprile), successful doctor Mike (Tony Caprile) and Mike's brilliant wife Kate (Preston) confront each other in that scathing second act.

Winding Road's director Glen Coffman, also gets the right slant time after time as his characters gain and lose and then gain charisma again, right before our eyes.

In supporting roles are Peg Peterson, Toni Press-Coffman and Josh Parra creating a blue collar atmosphere as friends from Margaret's desperate South Boston neighborhood.

Congratulations, also, to Winding Road for being willing to go with basic stage settings to get this play mounted at the Scoundrel & Scamp's studio theater, instead of tossing the whole project aside and doing a simpler show. For the audience, there is much to be gained here.

Act One is set into motion when Stevie (Parra) is forced to fire Margaret from her clerk job at the Dollar Store. Margaret has been late too many times.

But Margaret has an adult daughter who needs special care at home. Margaret can't afford to hire a “baby sitter,” so lots of times Margaret is late for work. Stevie knows that, but his boss doesn't care. Margaret has to go.

For these people in these times, the most meagre job can mean the difference between survival and destitution. Stevie knows that, too. Without work, Margret will be on the street. But Stevie can't lose his own job.

When he and Margaret see each other every week at bingo, she doesn't take the firing personally. It's life, straight no chaser. Margaraet's friends Jean (Press-Coffman) and Dottie (Peterson) aren't much help, though. They have their own problems.

Life from their point of view is one enormous obstacle after another, which they recount with considerable humor to keep each other's spirits up. That's when Margaret learns that Mike (Tony Caprile), a boy she knew from the neighborhood, has become a successful doctor in an upscale part of Boston.

It isn't even intermission yet and Margaret in on her way to reconnect with Mike.

Good People” runs through Nov. 18 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 16; at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18 at Scoundrel & Scamp Studio Theatre in The Historic Y, 738 N. Fifth Ave.

Tickets are $28 general admission, $25 seniors and military, $18 students with ID. For details and reservations, 401-3626, windingroadtheater.org