Curious Incident touches the very depth of the soul
The winner of five Tony Awards, including the 2015 Tony Award winner for Best Play, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been enchanting audiences for the past two years. Its home at the Barrymore Theatre sets the stage for an incredible portrayal of Simon Stephens’ adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel of the same name. With believable British accents, talented actors playing multiple interactive roles and several comical asides, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a show not to be missed.
For actor Tyler Lea, who plays the main character 15-year-old Christopher Boone, his Broadway debut has been a dream come true.
“I still wake up some mornings not believing it’s real,” he said. “I’ve viewed Broadway from the outside for so long, never absolutely sure I’d ever be here, but I am, and it’s been an exciting and challenging past six months.”
The play opens to loud and quick flashes of noise and light, mimicking what Christopher’s brain feels when he is overwhelmed. He discovers the body of Wellington, his neighbor, Mrs. Shears’ dog. When she calls the police and names Christopher as the main suspect, he decides to investigate the death on his own, which evolves into a deeper journey of what really happened to his mother, who he is told had died two years earlier.
The young actor’s absolutely brilliant portrayal of the protagonist and narrator of the novel Christopher—a very smart loner who doesn’t like metaphors, has a vivid imagination and is very detailed in his anecdotes—was apparent within the first 15 minutes. Lea said that although he has gone out for several auditions, this one was more than special.
“This one, of course, was one that I knew I really had a connection with. Plus, I knew it was the part of a lifetime,” he said about the role, a character who, although is never specified to be autistic or diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, does have associated traits, which Lea researched extensively.
“Mark Haddon, the author of the book, never specified about Christopher’s condition, but I did a lot of research and drew from my own experiences to create someone I could believe in and have others believe in too,” said Lea, who is protective of Christopher and passionately epitomized his character’s condition with tense, strenuous movements and facial expressions that seemed to come natural to him.
“I’ve spent so much time ‘digging in’ to Christopher’s mind that I’ve grown really close to who he is and what he stands for, for a lot of people. If there was ever a situation where I needed to defend Christopher I would, knowing that I am defending anyone who is inspired by him.”
There is one scene in particular where Christopher’s mother Judy, played by Enid Graham, recites a letter she wrote to him while Christopher constructs a train set on the floor. Lea was challenged with the task of acting, moving around on stage and building a train set at the same time.
“It took lots of practice. I wasn’t very good at it at first, but once I knew how everything worked and where certain things belonged on stage, it became second nature,” he said.
The unique stage is an interactive grid of time, space and logistics. The set itself is minimalist and active, with blocks, shelves, trap doors and hidden compartments that moves forward and backward depending on the scene. It is appropriate for Christopher, who is very intelligent and gifted at mathematics. (He even recites all of the prime numbers as a calming mechanism.) Christopher prepares for this A-level exam throughout the play, all while detailing his adventures in a book.
Rosie Benton, who plays Siobhan, acts as Christopher’s mentor at school. She teaches him how to behave within society’s complex guidelines and serves as a calm safety for him. Even her costume—a white shirt and cool mint green pants—is a breath of fresh air. After reading the book, Benton knew she had to audition.
“I loved the book. When I heard it was becoming a play, I was so excited to see how the writers would interpret Mark Haddon/Christopher’s words,” said Benton when her agents asked her if she wanted to go in for the part of Siobhan. “I tore through the script in a couple hours and was in tears by the end. The play is so simple on the page. That, and working with this creative team, made me jump at the opportunity.”
In preparing for her role, Benton met with some of the teachers at QSAC (Quality Services for the Autism Community), which works with young people on the spectrum on life skills.
“I did a lot of research on the autism spectrum and talked to a relative of mine that works with children with disabilities,” said Benton. “I also drew on my experience working with children with autism in college. All of this plus constantly going back to the book and the script for specifics and nuance.”
Siobhan serves as a safe zone for Christopher and is a calming and reassuring presence throughout the show. Benton believes that “a strong, reassuring adult presence is key for any child” and that “consistency is very important.”
“When a child has disabilities, I think this is an even greater issue. The highs are higher and the lows are lower with Christopher,” she said. “Having someone that knows him and can speak his specific language is beneficial to him in helping him learn how to calm himself. Ultimately he is able to travel on his journey to London because he summons Siobhan’s words in his mind. Her lessons become him way into the ‘real world.’”
At the end of the play, Christopher remains hopeful about his future, knowing that he can be successful on his own and that he will make his mark in the world. A true tale of hope, that will touch your whole being, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is hands down, one of the best Broadway shows you will ever see.
For tickets and show times, visit www.curiousonbroadway.com or call 212-239-6200.