Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time Spotlights Autism

Cast of the The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-time.
The cast of The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-time. Lucas Gonsalves, the star, is in red.

The Exit 7 Player’s recent production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is a lot to unpack.  From the long title to a star who demonstrates the clearest signs of Asperger’s, this production by the 38-year-old theater company in Ludlow tackles a whole lot of important issues with a spare dada-esque stage set bolstered by projections of realistic scenes and well-produced audio.

Chris and his long-lost mother Judy.
Chris and his long-lost mother Judy. Ed Haber photo.

Using about a dozen white, hinged boxes, the actors move the boxes in creative ways, they create a police station,  various living rooms, a train carriage, and other scenes.

Actors sitting on the sidelines play the roles of ATM Machines, coat racks, and chairs.  With the main character described as ‘neurodiverse’ the production leaned on local experts in psychology to really flesh out the acting, and the lines, and the Ludlow high school sophomore Lucas Gonsalves who plays him does it with both realism and respect.

The main character Christopher Boone, wearing his only color, red, stands out in a sea of black, then a sea of behatted, trench coat wearing commuters in the confusing London train station.  The story of a boy who cringes upon being touched begins with the dog of the title. Wellington, the neighbor’s sheepdog, lies dead with a garden spade in his gut.  Nobody knows who did the dastardly deed, but suspicion is cast all around.

The train station's noise and people confuse and freak out Chris in this scene from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Exit 7 Players.
The train station’s noise and people confuse and freak out Chris in this scene from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Exit 7 Players. Ed Haber photo.

Chris sets out to find the killer, and his voice is read by a female narrator (Gilana Chelimsky), saying what Chris is thinking, as he speaks in that familiar tone of the severely autistic. He rattles off square roots to comfort himself, he knows everything and nothing, and sees the world in a series of remarkable details, that others see as more simple objects.

His father Ed Boone, (Jason Rose-Langston)  tries to calm him down when a policeman gets rattled after Chris freaks out over being touched.  Mrs. Shears (Nancy Wright) is livid over the death of her dog, and we watch as later on Ed tries to explain to young Chris what happened to his mother…she tragically died after going to the hospital, he says.

Jeffrey Flood plays Mr Shears, s the new lover, seen her with Chris and his mother Judy.
Jeffrey Flood plays Mr. Shears, mom’s new lover, seen with Chris and his mother Judy, in the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Ed Haber photo.

The play has many funny moments when the actors sit on the sidelines pantomiming and acting out their lines gesturing in odd ways adding to the dada feeling on stage. This troupe plays many different roles as the main focus is on Chris and his tortured life, often he falls down in a ball of tears as he reacts in his way to what happens around him.

There are a lot of twists and turns, the mother who was declared dead re-emerges, and a trip to see her in London brings out Chris’s worst fears in the confusion of the two train stations, and we see him repeating those numbers again and again, 3866, his father’s ATM pin….his world is one of painstakingly accurate numbers, and he gets them all right every time.  His long-lost mother Judy (Jami Wilson) does a good turn in combining her joy in seeing her son and the pain of what the reality of living with him becomes.

I often think of how hard it must be for an actor to carry an entire show with so many lines and details, and in two acts, young Lucas never flubs, even at the very end when he recites a very complicated math problem that has earned him a place of A-level honor in his school, back in his hometown of Swinton.

Kudos also to director Michael O. Budnick for coordinating so many actors and such a cacophonous list of scenes.  The projections I have been seeing in so many local performances really add so much to the scene-setting, and the sound projection too was first-rate. The troupe who played many parts included Jeffrey Flood, Andy Price, Dan Jarvis, Hannah Zaitz, and Theresa Allie. The cutest dog in the world made a last-minute appearance, a Golden Retriever puppy named Bentley.

This was my first visit to this theater in downtown Ludlow, a place I’ve only been to a few times. The former school has plenty of room downstairs, easy parking, and it all added up to a wonderful night of theater, as the snow flew outside.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was written by Mark Haddon. It was adapted for the stage by Simon Stevens and won Best New Play in 2013 in London, then was a broadway hit for two years, winning the Tony in 2015 for best play.

Find out about upcoming shows from Exit 7 Players at their website.