Credit: Michael Brosilow

Mark Haddon’s 2003 smash-hit young adult novel was a notable staple on bookstore best-seller tables throughout the aughts for a handful of reasons, not the least of which was its stark brevity. First, the atmospheric kind: using the unadorned first-person voice of Christopher, a 15-year-old boy presumed to be on the autism spectrum, Curious Incident unravels a domestic whodunnit from an unsentimental—yet often heart-wrenching—point of view. And second, the literal kind: the book can easily be read in one or two sittings.

Playwright Simon Stephens’s bloated two-and-a-half-hour stage adaptation ditches that brevity by adding a totally superfluous plotline about a theater troupe adapting the work, which plays out like an unnecessary attempt to justify and explain the adaptation’s existence. So . . . there’s that.

But exceedingly patient (and properly caffeinated) audiences will find a lot to like in director Jonathan Berry’s capable, serviceable production for Steppenwolf’s Young Adults lineup. Terry Bell is magnetic and charming as Christopher, the amateur detective who’s out to solve the case of his neighbor’s pitchfork-impaled dog. What he discovers along the way is an even thornier and more personal mystery that guides him on a path far outside his comfort zone.

And gripping, fully fleshed-out performances by Cedric Mays and Rebecca Spence as Christopher’s parents emphasize one element present in but less highlighted in Haddon’s book: the emotional highs and lows experienced by parents navigating their own faults while raising a child with special needs, something Berry’s production showcases in frank clarity.  v