In the Tony Award-winning play “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Simon Stephens — now playing at Actors Theatre — English teenager Christopher John Francis Boone becomes a sleuth after the murder of a dog.
A lover of math and astronomy, Christopher (Alexander Stuart) confesses he “finds people confusing.” He had established that before he found a neighbor’s dog slain with a pitchfork. But mysteries mount as he takes on the task of finding the culprit — going against warnings by his father, Ed (Brain Slaten).
Then Christopher’s pursuit takes him to learn not only who killed the dog — much to his dismay — but unintentionally to discover more about his father and himself in this different kind of coming-of-age story.
But Christopher can be confusing as well, as illustrated early on. “Yes, I always tell the truth,” he says. This value of honesty becomes clear after striking a policeman who has come to investigate the dog’s death. While questioning Christopher, he reaches out to touch the boy, who instinctively hits him.
Moments later, at the police station, Christopher explains he definitely meant to because he doesn’t like to be touched and that he did not kill the dog.
Stuart, as Christopher, displays other distinctive mannerisms — often repeatedly twirling the cord from the hood of his navy sweatshirt around his fingers; counting his left and right steps as he moves in crowded, noisy and overwhelming spaces; and coiling into a ball and sometimes kicking his feet when angry or overwhelmed with grief, sadness or anger.
Neither autism nor Asperger’s syndrome are explicitly mentioned in the play or Mark Haddon’s best-selling 2003 book on which the play is based, although Christopher displays several signs. The play’s storyline closely follows that of the book.
Meredith McDonough, the theater’s associate artistic director, demonstrated her commitment to credibly representing Christopher by casting Boone, who has autism, and making Actors Theatre only the country’s second theater to make this casting choice. Actors is also offering a sensory-friendly guide for the show, and a sensory-friendly matinee on Oct. 7.
McDonough also shows strong directing of this season-opening play by weaving Christopher and the other nine cast members fluidly through an open labyrinth the designing team has provided for her on the stage. (That team includes scenic designer Kristen Robinson; lighting designer Paul Toben and media designer Philip Allgeier.)
The landscape reflects the physical world with few prop and set pieces, and instead uses lighting and digital projections to evoke Christopher’s dogged journey by train, from his home in Swindon to London and his mind’s eye. It’s accompanied by a cacophony, designed by Christian Frederickson, that frightens Christopher. Some of the most beautiful and poignant scenes involve memories from a time at the beach with swelling waves his mother and his love of the night sky full of stars.
The strong cast includes Stuart and Tina Chilip as Siobhan, whose role flips between Christopher’s teacher and a kind of alter ego named Siobhan who speaks the text of his journal and also has conversations with him at some of his stressful moments. Chilip’s Siobhan brings an open, reassuring and sometimes childlike approach to help Christopher examine his situations with a calm kind of power that could cross the stage’s edge to comfort someone in the audience.
Coming of age for Christopher, like many of these stories, lies in understanding more about himself and his family. In particular for him, growing up also means diving deeper into his love of math and continuing to embrace his love of the stars.
The production of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” at Actors Theatre of Louisville continues through Oct. 10 in the Pamela Brown Auditorium at Actors Theatre of Louisville, 316 W. Main St. Tickets are $30.74 to 76.32. For more information, call (502) 584-1205 or visit actorstheatre.org.
Elizabeth Kramer is on Twitter @arts_bureau and on Facebook at Elizabeth Kramer – Arts Writer.