The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time offers thoughtful portrayal of neurodivergence

By Caroline Hoskins
Contributing Writer

This semester, the Sewanee theater department is putting on their production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, originally a novel by Mark Haddon about a kid on the autism-spectrum investigating the sudden death of a neighbor’s dog. The book was transitioned into a play for the Royal National Theatre in London in 2012. 

The director, Professor of Theater Jim Crawford, discussed his mindset in choosing this specific play, saying: “I loved the novel. The reason it popped up right now has everything to do with COVID.” He continued,  “There’s something about this story that focuses around a fifteen year-old boy on the autism-spectrum. It seemed like a masked and distanced production was full of metaphors in a way that felt really right for a production.” 

In this modern age of storytelling, it is really important to create respectful and accurate representations of marginalized communities. If done incorrectly, a depiction of someone who is neurodivergent might come off as a bad caricature or mocking. Crawford discussed ways in which he is educating the cast on the neurodivergent community: “We’ve already watched video clips of different people while in rehearsal. There are a couple of Ted Talks by people who are autistic,” he said. “The actor who’s playing Christopher, Tristan Ketchum, in particular, is watching a lot of it and seeing which particular mannerisms might be right for him. We have to find the meeting point of what is realistic and also what is theatrical.” 

The use of lighting and visual effects played a huge part in the storytelling of the original play. Crawford addressed how a small production might use effects in a way that would similarly enhance the story: “The set  has a sort of metaphorical feeling of what it’s like to be in Christopher’s brain. There are scenes that feel terribly realistic and there are scenes where he [Christopher] has a memory and suddenly the lights will take us to a less realistic place.” 

Another effect added to the show is an original score by Sewanee student, Bram Atkins
(C’21), to be performed live during the show. Each piece of the score will be used to represent Christopher’s mental state during that scene. 

Last semester in the Sewanee production of Scapin, costume designer Greer King(C’21) incorporated masks in a way that the audience would forget they were being used. For this production, masks will be used in a more obvious way to enhance the story. For example,“There are scenes in the play where Christopher makes his big journey to London and is completely overwhelmed when the masks and other parts of the costumes are going to become less realistic. It will be an element of the overstimulation that is difficult for him to work through, but he keeps working through it.”

The logistics of the play will be very similar to that of last semester’s production, with a maximum of thirty audience members per performance and reservations made through the Eventbrite app. Professor Crawford expressed the intention for the last two performances to be either live streamed or recorded for family members of the cast or those who feel uncomfortable seeing the show in person. The play itself will open Thursday, March 18 to and run for eight shows.