“Everyone has special needs,” asserts the protagonist of Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Soon coming to The Smith Center in the form of Simon Stephens’ Broadway stage adaptation, the book’s tale is told from the perspective of 15-year-old Christopher.
The teen informs readers they are reading his very own “murder mystery novel,” about who killed the dead dog he found on his neighbor’s lawn. Math puzzles, ironic humor and other elements of nontraditional storytelling offer quite a challenge for the beloved book’s theatrical adaptation. Another factor Stephens had to consider was how the play would approach the book’s representation of special needs, as it is unmistakably implied—but not explicitly stated—that Christopher has Asperger’s, a form of autism.
“Autism or Asperger’s is a condition, our understanding of which is in constant flux. So to define Christopher as being autistic or having Asperger’s would really limit him and alienate any other people who might identify in any kind of non-neurotypical way,” Stephens said during an interview for azcentral.com. His comment echoes the author’s, who maintains the story is about how making ourselves understood can be difficult—not for just the autism community, but for everyone.
The play has drawn both praise and criticism from the autism community. The latter mainly stems from the fact that the production has solicited minimal involvement from autistic theater professionals.
With its criticism, the book is dually praised for its ability to break down the communication barriers of its non-neurotypical narrator and to get the reader to deeply empathize with him. Theatergoers have been laughing and cheering him on, as Christopher not only attempts to solve the murder, but also learns some hard lessons that come with growing up.
Living with a struggling single father in a small English suburb comes with its share of hardship—in fact, more than its fair share. Revelations much bigger than a dead dog unfold, leaving Christopher feeling overwhelmed at times. Something as simple as someone touching him can make his very logical, mathematical mind “short circuit,” so to speak, and it will be interesting to see how this production will immerse the audience in that experience.
“We see this play as [one] that celebrates difference. … It doesn’t matter what you’re going through, you can connect to Christopher,” says Adam Langdon, the actor who plays Christopher in the touring Broadway production, during an interview with Vegas Seven.
Furthermore, the character Siobhan (played by Maria Elena Ramirez) is there to pick up when the story becomes too much for Christopher to communicate to the audience. “That was [the aha] moment when [writers/directors] were trying to adapt this book into a play, because no one really thought it could be done, especially Mark Haddon,” Langdon says.
The story continually points to themes of communication and connection with others, as each character has moments in which it is difficult, for one reason or another, to say what they mean. What makes The Curious Incident a must-see this season is how its story creatively uses Christopher as a proxy for a wider theme that underlines how our differences can both isolate and connect us.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Sept. 19–24, times vary, $36–$127, Reynolds Hall at The Smith Center, thesmithcenter.com