The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time does a bit of all these. On the surface it’s a thriller about an odd neighborhood tragedy. It’s clearly about a child, but it’s also about adults. As it unfolds, we find, like in many well-crafted stories, that there are many other surprising things at stake that take us into the heart of primal human relationships. Most important of these is the relationship between parents and their child, but also important are the relationship between neighbors, the relationship between children and their teachers, the relationship between the community of care and those for whom care is needed.
Mark Haddon crafted this story first into an award-winning novel—his first novel for adults, but also read widely by children—which was then faithfully adapted to the stage. The story is told in the first person, so the nature of that central character is revealed slowly by what he says and does, not by what he is called or how he is characterized by others. This is a particularly winning storytelling device that immediately draws us to that central character. We root for him from the first second of the play, and we are inextricably swept along in his journey. And his journey is a profound one: starting in his neighborhood, it expands out in time and space, but also inwardly, as he takes risks and finds courage, experiences fear and longing, and finally, realizes a sense of accomplishment.
In the book, Christopher, our self-narrator, is unusual and straightforward. Haddon offers us no explanations or names for his circumstances. We quickly begin to name them for ourselves—autism, Asperger’s, Down’s?—because these are terms that we now accept to explain certain kinds of human behaviors. But the play asks us not to explain, not to diagnose, but to experience. What does it feel like to be Christopher? What does it feel like to be his father or mother? How do we judge/overlook/marginalize people who are different?
The beauty of a theatre experience like this is that it is so utterly life-affirming—and what could possibly be a better way to open a season? Welcome, and enjoy.