A teenager, Christopher Boone, discovers Wellington, a large white dog he is very fond of, lying dead with a garden fork sticking out of him. Mrs. Shears, the owner of the dog, finds Christopher there and assumes the worst. When a policeman shows up, Christopher is urgently embracing the dog. When he tries to touch the young man, in a perfunctory way, Christopher pops him one. He takes the young man to jail and calls his dad. The boy’s dad is conciliatory, explaining to the cop and apologizing, and takes Christopher home. Even though Dad tells him to drop it, Christopher resolves to unravel the mystery of Wellington’s murder.
Christopher is autistic. I don’t believe this is explained in so many words, but rather, by the way others accommodate, or fail to, Christopher’s differences. Naturally his parents are better equipped, and his teacher, but many adults don’t get it, and don’t try. Not surprisingly, it often has more to do with individual and their personal struggles, rather than anything to do with Christopher himself. Who is just trying to get on best as he can. In this way The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time addresses “otherness” and lack of tolerance for the idiosyncrasies we encounter of those not like us. It’s not that Christopher’s difference makes him unreasonable, quite the contrary, his reasoning is just unconventional. Certain kinds of abstractions, like metaphors, throw him because he takes verbal communication at face value. He deals in the literal.
Adapted by Simon Stephens from Mark Haddon’s novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a wonder of contemporary stage creation, coalescing scenic, lighting, video, choreographic, musical, and sound design to evoke Christopher’s magnificently quirky perception of the world. (Thanks to the brilliance of: Bunny Christie, Paule Constable, Finn Ross, Scott Graham & Steven Hoggett, Adrian Sutton and Ian Dickinson.) The mathematical and cosmological context Christopher applies to the practical aspects of living are so exquisite, they’re chilling. Haddon and Stephens never condescend to us or Christopher in depicting his autistic lens on the substance of surviving. His struggles are never depicted as quaint. We see his suffering and misery, how his Mum and Dad ache to connect with a son too overwhelmed by a simple, nurturing hug. His grasp on the world is never romanticized. Sometimes it’s terrifying. Sometimes astonishing. Yet they also celebrate Christopher’s unique vision. When he decides to find his mother, we are genuinely scared for him, and moved by his bravery.
I feel sort of ridiculous comparing this show to say, Children of a Lesser God, or The Miracle Worker, even though it treats its protagonist with the same respect, the same refusal to pity. It feels like a quantum leap in literature that addresses our inability to manage a modicum of patience, compassion or open-mindness. I left The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time feeling elated, exhilarated, genuinely glad to be alive. (No small feat in these dark times.) And just maybe you will, too.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time plays January 11th – 22nd, 2017 at the AT&T Performing Arts Center -Winspear Opera House. 2403 Flora Street, Dallas, Texas, 75201. www.attpac.org. 214-880-0202.