I just got to see the National Theater of London’s production of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” and it set me thinking a great deal about an aspect of contemporary theater. Movies started as mostly filmed versions of what people saw in theaters, but now things seem to be turning around.I am not a frequent consumer of live theater, much as I enjoy it. I do go to see some local productions, which are often good, and I get to New York shows once in a long while. So being able to see high definition broadcasts of these London productions in a local theater is a real treat.

I was particularly interested in the play version of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” created (by another writer, Simon Stephens) from Mark Haddon’s best-selling book. I had read the book and enjoyed it greatly. And I didn’t see how it could be made into play very effectively. The book is told from the point of view of an autistic teenager, using his own highly idiosyncratic style and filled with drawings and graphics in his style. How the hell do you do that on the stage?

Well, for starters, while the book has an uncommon variety of appearances on the page, Christopher is individual only through his words and his graphics. On the stage, he can be portrayed by someone with a characteristic tone of voice and physical mannerisms. The opportunity to express these comes from the work of the novelist and the playwright, but without the brilliant work of actor Luke Treadaway they would have only been potentials. Treadaway realizes Christopher’s character, with his limitations and his strengths, in an extremely vivid manner.

And all the actors, some of whom play several parts, were excellent in this production. But the playwright, and the designers, also decided to use a very plain set and enliven and elaborate constantly with projections, graphics, and sound effects (sometimes deafeningly loud, apparently to convey the way sound impinges on Christopher’s psyche).

This was all very vivid and had a powerful impact even at the remove of seeing it projected on a screen. But, at intermission, I found myself wondering, why the hell didn’t they just make it into a movie? There are so many cinematic devices being used in this production that perhaps the producers should have gone all the way and put the frightening scenes on the train and in the railroad stations into real trains and stations and filmed it. At that point, my friend Lee pointed out that in the theater we have the physical presence of the actors, which came across even in the broadcast. In a movie, we know nobody is actually there.

I am not quite as naive as this may sound. I do know that even in the 18th century there were elaborate mechanisms for special effects in theaters. And I know about the elaborate settings of Broadway musicals (which can cost as much to produce as a movie). I’ve also seen the Metropolitan Opera’s multi-media Wagner Ring cycle. I just don’t associate such doings with “serious” theater. So maybe I am naive after all.

Without Treadaway’s physical presence, I don’t know if this play would have worked. It could easily have dissolved into a collection of special effects without a center. When I first saw “Amadeus” on the stage in London, almost 30 years ago, I had some of that feeling. The special effects, very original at that time, seemed to take over the theatrical experience. I liked the film version better. In this case, I know a movie would be quite a different experience. I suspect it might be an inferior one.

And in a film you would not have been able to enjoy the virtuoso “encore” (taken straight from the book,) in which Christopher, having postponed giving the audience an elaborate mathematical explanation earlier in the play, gets his chance to do that after the story is over. I don’t know how the hell Treadaway managed to memorize that scene, but it was dazzling.

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