Even as someone who has a history of both being in and watching plays, I was a bit apprehensive going into “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” the Morro Bay High School Theatre Arts Program’s newest production. I was accustomed to school plays being either fun renditions of popular musicals, such as last year’s “Little Shop of Horrors” or silly comedies, which I originally figured what this newest performance would be. Upon discovering that it would be neither, instead being an emotional and dramatic piece, I was both unsure that the program would be able to pull it off and excited to see what they could do with more mature source material. After hearing that the music would be entirely student composed and that the cast was to be only a handful of students these two reactions, and my anticipation, grew.
Now, after seeing “The Curious Incident,” I have to say that all of my expectations were blown away. First and foremost, even after hearing that the story would deal with important themes and was quite sad, I was barely prepared for the raw emotions that the play would deal with or for the level of maturity that many of the story elements would include. Telling the story of Christopher, played by Jack Vogel, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” shows his journey as a teenager on the Autism Spectrum as he attempts to solve the murder of his neighbor’s dog and learns more about himself, his family, and the world. Along the way, the story deals with themes such as mental health, abandonment, death, lost love, and abuse.
Any fears I had that the acting in the play would not be good enough to effectively handle a mature storyline were quickly displaced. All ten members of the cast are phenomenal, with few moments feeling anything less than professional. Especially notable are Jack Vogel as Christopher, Garrett Wright as his father, Ed, and Edie Irving as her mother, Judy, all of whom gave convincing and powerful emotional performances. However, even smaller roles are excellent and contribute to the overall feeling of the play being very, very well done.
Even more unexpected than the acting was the extremely effective visual storytelling. In place of customary props and stage lighting, the play features six large boards on the stage that change color to match what the story calls for. These boards not only helped to set the mood and setting of the scenes but also provided a beautiful backdrop that lent itself to stunning silhouettes and effective scene transitions. In one memorable instance, the boards made the simple act of Christopher walking across the stage into visually striking scenario as they illuminated as he walked past, silhouetting his figure.
I would also be remiss to leave out the play’s soundtrack, which was entirely composed by sophomore Brayden Appell. In no place does the music feel out of place, nor does it ever overshadow the events of each scene, instead enhancing the overall emotion of the performance. Again, this is another aspect that feels almost professional-quality.
In short, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is a shining example of the what a small cast of high school actors can create. It holds no punches emotionally and is unafraid to deal with very adult ideas, conveyed through beautiful visual storytelling, compelling acting, and fantastic music. I was left amazed at the overall quality that the Theatre Arts Program was able to achieve and look forward to their future productions.