Lawrence Toppman

A dead dog, two live rats and a boy with a beautiful mind

Joan Marcus

All of us who have struck out in the first inning but hit a game-winning homer in the ninth will appreciate Adam Langdon’s story.

There he was, still at Juilliard, hoping to replace former schoolmate Alex Sharp in the Broadway role that won him a 2015 Tony Award. Langdon sailed into auditions for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” buoyed by insight from his buddy into the character of Christopher Boone.

And sank.

“My audition was just not good,” says Langdon. “I was given a note: ‘Christopher has seen every episode of “Law & Order” and knows how these detective scenes work.’ I must have worked on this one (speech) five times, but – not good. Auditioning is a process that can’t really be taught, so you have to keep working and working on the learning curve.

“I was brought back a year later and given the exact same note. And I thought ‘OK, this is something I can adapt to now.’ 

The producers agreed and sent him out on the first national tour, which reaches Belk Theater on Tuesday. Langdon plays a 15-year-old, mentally different Londoner who learns a neighbor’s dog has been murdered, investigates and unearths the secret of his parents’ marital problems. Christopher has just one trustworthy confidant, his pet rat Toby.

“Mentally different” isn’t a euphemism. Though many critics put Christopher on the Asperger’s spectrum, neither playwright Simon Stephens nor original novelist Mark Haddon specified a condition.

“People (in his world) find him difficult, because he won’t conform to what you expect of 15-year-old boys,” says Langdon. “But he’s also funny and intelligent and engaging. He’s onstage the entire play, so the audience and Christopher have a special bond.” (To prevent exhaustion, Benjamin Wheelwright plays him at certain performances, as he did on Broadway. Rats also need time off, so Zeus and Jinkies – intelligent, tractable rodents who eat only organic food – take turns as Toby.)

How does Langdon connect with a character so different from himself?

“One of the things I really love about him is his honesty, which can be brutal and blunt but not mean,” he replies. “I get in trouble with that myself. It’s not because he’s trying to be a good person; he simply can’t tell lies. And I can totally lock into this British sensibility, because my mom’s a Brit.”

He calls the role a combination of “Hamlet” and Cirque du Soleil, and he makes a good case.

“Like Hamlet, he’s in a one-man battle: There’s a murder, he must find out who has done this deed, and other characters cover it up. He’s a lonely young man. And from (an acting) standpoint, it’s a beast of a part. You’re on for two and a half hours, you’re sweating and mucus is running down the back of your throat, but you have to push through.

“There’s also a lot of physical activity. When Christopher talks about being an astronaut, people are picking him up and flying him through the air.” (The show earned a Tony nomination for choreographers Scott Graham and Stephen Hoggett, a rare event for a non-musical.)

To put us inside Christopher’s overloaded mind, Tony-winners Bunny Christie (scenic design) and Finn Ross (video design) created a huge black box that can change environments within seconds.

“From Christopher’s perspective, the world can be overpowering and loud and bright and flashy and off-putting,” says Langdon. “That’s what we had to adapt to as actors, and the audience has to adapt to it from the moment the play starts. It’s a difficult journey for them, but they have been OK with it night after night.”

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’

When: Feb. 14-19 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.

Tickets: $25-$119.50.

Details: 704-372-1000 or blumenthalarts.org.

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