If you haven’t
seen the Broadway play “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,”
hurry over to the Ethel Barrymore Theatre and get tickets. This not-to-be missed show is based on the
2003 award-winning mystery novel by British writer, Mark Haddon. What starts
out as an autistic boy’s determined and torturous effort to “investigate” the death
of his neighbor’s dog ends up revealing deeper truths about the boy’s family
and how we all must adapt to life’s chaos and disappointments.
curtain rises, the audience is immediately confronted with the startling image
of a large white dog, lying center-stage with a pitchfork plunged into its
side. Kneeling next to the dead dog is
Christopher age 15, wailing and rocking, holding his head in his hands. The
police arrive and take Christopher away as a suspect. All hell breaks loose as Christopher assaults a police
officer—not because he’s guilty or resisting arrest—but simply because he HATES
being touched. In addition to this
aversion to touch, Christopher is a math genius, who knows every prime number
up to 7057, along with the capitals of every country in the world. Yet everyday conversations are an infuriating
conundrum for him. Confused by clichés and
small talk, Christopher throws terrible tantrums whenever his rigid and orderly
world is violated in any way. Played to
perfection by Alex Sharp, the character of Christopher comes alive in ways that
feel both mesmerizing and exhausting. Throughout Mr. Sharp’s virtuoso performance,
I was not only reminded of my daughter Sarah’s meltdowns, but also—and more
importantly— of all the similarities AND differences between individuals on the
everything. Most other people are lazy,”
he tells the audience. Unlike other
passengers on a train who observe houses, trees or grass out the window,
Christopher can tell you exactly how many
houses there are within a five mile radius. He knows how many red cars are in
the street and whether or not they are Chevrolets. However, these detailed observations come
with the heavy price of extreme sensory overload. Think you’re so different from Christopher? This production may well convince you
otherwise. Piercing lights and sound
engulf the audience as well as the characters, forcing us to understand
firsthand the curse and blessing of seeing everything all at once.
within a black box grid, the play is brilliant in it use of choreography and
sound effects to take you inside Christopher’s head. The audience literally watches Christopher
climbing the walls; we also experience the flood of prime numbers in his head
as he tries to sleep; and his extreme panic as he navigates a crowded train
station, trying to find his way to London while carrying his pet rat.
Choreographers Scott Graham and Steven Hogget show the cast of characters on
and off the train as the writhing whirlpool of humanity they appear to be from
Christopher’s perspective. I felt every bit as tortured as the over-stimulated
15 year old boy himself, watching him struggle to buy a ticket, find the
correct train and contend with a smelly, disgusting toilet.
education teacher Siobhan (Francesca Faridany) plays a helpful and soothing
intermediary between Christopher and the audience. By the second act, she has convinced
Christopher to turn his written notebook into the play we are watching.
Faridany does an excellent job of portraying a respectful mentor with a calming
influence on Christopher. He trusts her, and so do we. As a parent of a special needs daughter, I
remember feeling that same reciprocity of respect and sense of calm with
Sarah’s best teachers. It’s so very
important to be understood AND respected for being who we are, no matter what
our strengths and challenges happen to be, isn’t it?
going to be all right,” different people keep assuring Christopher in less-than-convincing
voices. We hear these empty reassurances
from Christopher’s father, his mother, his teachers, well-meaning neighbors and
strangers. But as the play unfolds, we
end up sharing Christopher’s view. Nothing will ever be “all right,” but if
you’re brave and determined enough to push beyond your worst fears and overcome
life’s day-to-day challenges, you—like Christopher—can find comfort and relief.
are “feel good” moments both large and small In “Curious Incident of the Dog in
Night Time.” When Christopher allows his
palm to make contact with his parent’s palm, the audience feels their love and
connection. Likewise, we are proud of
Christopher for taking advanced Math tests and achieving “A Stars,” the highest
possible grade—despite his anxiety and lack of food or sleep. Is this really so
different from how we feel when our neurotypical sons and daughters suffer
through SATs and get high scores? Like
Temple Grandin, Christopher seems to have a stronger emotional connection with
animals than humans. At the start of the play, we see this connection in his
extreme grief over his neighbor’s dog, and later we see the tenderness and
devotion he displays toward his pet rat.
And, for the ultimate “feel good moment,” (dare I say slightly over the
top?) an adorable puppy dog makes a cameo appearance toward the finale of the
play. There’s even an extra “special” ending to the play for those willing to
wait for it (and just about everyone did).
That encore was both unexpected and, ironically, EXACTLY what the
audience had come to expect: brilliance.
But I won’t tell you more. I want
you to go see for yourself.
Labels: Asperger's Syndrome, autism, autistic spectrum, Broadway, cliches, dogs, London, Mark Haddon, math, neurotypical, pet rats, puppies, SATS, sensory processing, small talk, tantrums, Temple Grandin, touch, trains