The workings of the human mind are fundamentally unfathomable. So, in their way, are the workings of the average family.
Those twin mysteries are entwined in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,’’ the taut, fast-moving stage adaptation by Simon Stephens of Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel.
“Curious Incident’’ won a passel of Tony Awards two years ago, and if you want to know why, check out the splendid touring production that is now lighting up, quite literally, the Boston Opera House. Directed by Marianne Elliott, it’s a marvel of innovative storytelling and sensory immersion.
This most unusual coming-of-age tale revolves around a 15-year-old British boy named Christopher Boone, portrayed by the remarkable and seemingly inexhaustible Adam Langdon.
Christopher possesses genius-level math skills and limited social skills. He exhibits behaviors that have led many to conclude he has Asperger syndrome, though his condition is not specified in Haddon’s novel or Stephens’s script.
The teenager italicizes each word, speaking in loud, declamatory sentences, but he often does not meet the eye of the person he is talking to. (Like many adolescents, Christopher is a contradictory blend of absolute certitude and deep insecurity.) He can’t stand to be touched, and when he is he howls and curls up in a ball, clasping his head in his hands.
Director Elliott, her creative team, and her cast have reached deep into their theatrical tool kit and emerged with ingenious approaches to design, staging, and performance that put us inside Christopher’s mind and make palpable — sometimes almost unbearably so — how he processes experience.
He’s got a lot to process. “I find people confusing,’’ Christopher says early in “Curious Incident,’’ and small wonder. The people in his life, though well-meaning, are a mess. His mother, played by Felicity Jones Latta, vanished from his life two years earlier. His father, portrayed by Gene Gillette, told Christopher that she was hospitalized and, later, that she died of a heart attack. The person whom Christopher communicates with best is Siobhan (Maria Elena Ramirez), one of his teachers; indeed, he partly tells his story through her.
When Christopher finds that a neighbor’s dog has been killed with a gardening implement, he sets out on a Holmesian quest to use his intellect, along with interrogations of the neighbors, to solve the mystery of the dog’s death. But that quest leads him to personal discoveries: secrets and lies involving his own family. Subjected to that ordeal, Christopher learns a lot about his own capacities.
As he does so, Langdon movingly conveys the vulnerability beneath Christopher’s quirky mannerisms. The actor rarely gets a moment’s rest as he shoulders the virtually nonstop verbal and physical demands of the role. (Because of those demands, Langdon plays Christopher five times a week and Benjamin Wheelwright steps into the role for the other three performances.) It’s an admirable performance by Langdon on every level. By the way, stick around after the curtain call, because Langdon has one more virtuosic trick up his sleeve.
“Curious Incident’’ is the first non-musical play to be presented by Broadway in Boston since “War Horse’’ in 2012. (Elliott codirected the Broadway production of “War Horse.’’) The action in “Curious Incident’’ unfolds on a set, designed by Bunny Christie, that is in the form of a black mathematical grid. Across that grid flicker numbers, symbols, drawings, constellations, planets (Finn Ross did the video design) that are a visual correlative to the convergence of Christopher’s inner world and the outer world. The production is awash in lights (design is by Paule Constable) and sound (design is by Ian Dickinson, music is by Adrian Sutton) that make it seem as if the machinery of the universe itself is whirring to life.
“Curious Incident’’ employs other theatrical devices as well: Director Elliott and choreographers Steven Hoggett and Scott Graham mobilize the talented ensemble in stylized movement and slow-motion. The production also indulges in that quintessential meta touch, the play-within-a-play. It’s amusing — Christopher tells one actor he’s too old to play a police officer, and demands that one scene be done over — but it’s also a bit poignant, because it registers as an attempt by the youth to not just control but also understand confusing events.
And that, in the end, is the gift of Langdon’s performance and of this superb production: In a play that focuses so intently on one boy’s amazing mind, we come away with such a very strong sense of his heart.
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME
Play by Simon Stephens, based on the novel by Mark Haddon. Directed by Marianne Elliott. National Theatre production presented by Broadway in Boston. At Boston Opera House, through March 19. Tickets: 800-982-2787, www.broadwayinboston.comDon Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org