Curious Incident play captures audience, explores autism

Whitman Drama performed the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Mar. 1 and 3. Main character Christopher Boone (junior Jeremy Wenick) is an autistic teenager who investigates a neighborhood dog’s murder and along the way uncovers secrets about his own family. Photo by Adam Hirsh.

By Rebecca Hirsh

Junior Jeremy Wenick lies on stage, moaning in the fetal position and clenching his hands to his ears. Above him, seniors Lily Tender and Connor Johnson scream at each other, their hands flying. Johnson walks out. The scene ends.

Whitman Drama performed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time once Mar. 1 and twice Mar. 3. A show was scheduled for Friday Mar. 2 at 7 p.m. but was rescheduled to 1 p.m. the following afternoon due to the cancellation of school that day for emergency weather.

The play, an adaptation of the book written under the same title by Mark Haddon, follows autistic teenager Christopher Boone (Wenick) as he solves the mystery of who killed his neighbor’s dog and uncovers lies about his parents. As Whitman Drama didn’t have the rights to the original score, Whitman senior Mitch Fechter produced the soundtrack for Whitman’s production. His score is available on Soundcloud and Spotify. The play itself was designed to transport the audience into Christopher’s mind through the use of enhanced lighting and sound features.

“Christopher organizes things in such a black and white way,” Wenick said. “That kind of organization is really pertinent in the set design and all the elements of the show, as well as in the plot.”

Besides Christopher, main characters include: Siobhan, Christopher’s schoolteacher and a pseudo-narrator; Christopher’s father, Ed and his mother, Judy. Junior Lily James, Johnson, and Tender played these roles, respectively. The actors remained on stage for almost the entirety of the two hours, doing quick costume changes while sitting on cubes lining the set. The cubes were also used by actors during scene changes, in another deviation from the traditional structure of a show: normally, backstage technicians would be responsible for set changes.  

The play itself is part of Christopher’s findings that he copies verbatim into a book, which Siobhan reads to the audience. At one point, sophomore Matthew Millin even notes that he hopes he can be a policeman in the play, a character he plays a few scenes later.

To prepare for his role, Wenick researched the different forms autism can take. His voice was fast and clipped, rushed and without standard fluency. All actors spoke in British accents, as the play takes place in England. Wenick’s head was held at a tilt with his eyes down and his hands were constantly fidgeting. His blinks were exaggerated and he had tics. His mannerisms were reflective of the character too: Wenick jumped away from people’s touch, took comments literally and stated his opinions plainly.

“The main focus of the story is to get people to understand how someone like Christopher thinks,” producer Kevin Hatcher said. “Everything in the show comes straight from his brain.”

Christopher loves math—it’s his way of  breaking down otherwise complex problems and solving to find a concrete answer. This passion was incorporated into both the technical and performance aspects of Curious Incident. In a scene between Christopher and his father, computer code was projected as rain across the set’s illuminated background and whenever Christopher is overwhelmed, he repeats prime numbers to calm himself down.

A crowd favorite was when a live dog walked on stage toward the end of the second act. Supported by heightening music, Wenick repeats the line “Does this mean I can do anything?” to close the play. After the cast bow, Christopher returned to the stage to explain how he solved a math proof that Siobhan had previously said would be too boring to watch in a play.

The play was met with enthusiasm from students, teachers and parents.

“The actors did a great job and I thought that the sets looked fantastic,” chemistry teacher Anne Marie O’Donoghue said. “It was a very interesting story, a little bit of a mystery but it was still a big character study. It was just great.”

Jeremy Wenick is a news writer for the Black & White.