While spring in Sewanee usually means a musical for the theatre department, this year brought a more serious offering in the form of a cerebral drama-mystery. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime is a play about a fifteen year-old boy, Christopher Boone, and how he copes with the world, which is explored through the death of his neighborhood dog, Wellington. The Sewanee Theatre Department succeeded in not only putting together an entertaining escape from our COVID-ridden life, but also created a piece of emotionally intense and introspective theatre.
Going into the play, there was anticipation to see how the portrayal of someone on the autism spectrum would play out on stage. Holding a collective breath in anticipation of a stereotypical depiction of a member of the neurodivergent community, the audience was treated to a respectful depiction of the character of Christopher Boone. On a scale from Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory to an actually good representation, this production leaned heavily towards the latter. Though the original novel was not written by a member of the neurodivergent community, this production ensured that Christopher’s portrayal was as accurate as possible. This was aided by Tristan Ketchum’s (C’21) incredible performance as Christopher.
With the play set in England, it is natural for one to expect the use of accents throughout the play. It seems, however, not every actor was up to the challenge of maintaining their accent throughout the show. Particular actors had the unfortunate habit of slipping back and forth between English and Southern accents. It was difficult at times for the audience to remain in the story, but this small critique is outweighed by the numerous positive elements of the play.
The play was performed in the round, which means that there was no backstage and the audience was capable of seeing every side of the characters. This style of stage also aided in the play’s use of projection. This specific style of staging brings potential for problems. Not only can you not hide any mishaps as a performer, but the audience is able to see you from four different angles. Luckily for this production, no such mishaps occurred.
The stage itself works as a directional clue for Christopher’s mental state. With the stage itself being a big square with a smaller one inside, it seemed as though Christopher was comfortable in his surroundings. For instance, when he was in his hometown, the actors only walked along the edges of the square, never crossing into the center where Christopher was. This rule was broken when Christopher travels to London, where the pedestrians walk every-which-way, not sticking to the outside of the square. This change in blocking is used to show Christopher’s feelings of being crowded and out of control upon reaching London. This clever directorial decision aids in the visual impact of the play and furthers the story.
The two standout performances were those of Tristan Ketcham and Ben Davis (C‘24) as Christopher and Ed. Playing off of each other as father and son, they brought an emotional intensity that was necessary for this play. One particular scene of conflict between their characters was so powerful it left some of the audience in tears.
Overall, this play counts as a success on the part of the theatre department. It acted as a departure from the usual spring musical, but allowed the department to showcase the talent of their best and brightest performers in a piece that speaks to the feelings of isolation and loss of control this year has brought.