Alibi V.27 No.38 • Sept 20-26, 2018 

Arts Interview

Young Detectives

Complex play opens at Vortex Theatre

Tim Crofton, Thomas Yegerlehner and Holly Duell star in the play
Tim Crofton, Thomas Yegerlehner and Holly Duell star in the play
Courtesy of the Vortex Theatre

Adapted from the well-loved novel of the same name, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time received much attention during its initial run in 2012 at London's South Bank performance hub, the Royal National Theatre. Since that time it has been produced the world over, winning over audiences just as the book did after its publication in 2003.

The play, written for the stage by Simon Stephens—revolves around Christopher Boone, a young man often thought to be on the autism spectrum—who has decided to investigate the mysterious death of his neighbor's dog. Meanwhile, Christopher's relationship to others—his mentors and parents, namely—is explored.

Soon the play will be open at The Vortex Theatre (2900 Carlisle Blvd. NE) under the direction of Leslee Richards. From Friday, Sept. 21 through Sunday, Oct. 14 locals can access this world-class piece of theater in Albuquerque's Midtown area. As the cast and crew prepared for opening night, Richards took the time to talk about Vortex' iteration of the work.

Alibi: Why did you want to direct this play?

Richards: I had read the book some years ago and saw the New York production. I found the story engaging and told from an unusual perspective, and I wanted the challenge of creating it at the Vortex.

What drew you to the script, and how does the script reflect or differ from the novel?

The script reflects the novel, and includes exact language from the novel, but is not verbatim—it doesn’t go into nearly as much detail, for example. That makes it up to us as the actors and director to tell the complete story visually. That is a challenge that big production houses met with lots of technology and electronic stage magic. For the Vortex, we’ve chosen to meet the challenge [by emphasizing] humanity and relationships.

There has been some disagreement on what this play is about—some describing it as a look into life with Asperger's, though the author later said was not the case—what is it about to you and how does this production reflect that?

Mark Haddon never labels his protagonist’s “syndrome.” Simon Stephens' script is the same way. Both agree that, taken individually, any one of Christopher’s quirks would be met with an eyeroll or a smile in the real world. It’s only when several quirks are added together that we start labeling. Yes, Christopher’s behavior might be called “on the spectrum,” but it can also be [described as] simply odd or difficult. To put a label on his behavior is an over-simplification, when the story is much more about personal growth within a family, led by a brilliant young man who refuses to let the world define him.

What did you discover or learn while developing this production?

I’ve had more assistance with this production than any other I’ve done. There are a number of characters which the cast members pop into and out of, there is a huge amount of movement for which I had a brilliant choreographer, Judith Chazin-Bennahum. We’ve [also] chosen a wide variety of accents, not to mention numerous locations and props. So, we’ve all been discovering Christopher’s world together, bringing to life London train stations and town centers and subway platforms, and diving deep into the mathematics that enhance and define Christopher’s thinking.

What did you look for during casting and how do the unique talents of the actors further illuminate this story?

Flexibility, a willingness to play, to be collaborative, and to step out of the box of standard theatrical conventions. I think we’ve had an interesting and freeing experience together—[the cast] has been willing to experiment and they have kept me trying to think of new ways to use all the physical and vocal attributes they bring.

Is there anything timely about staging this play now?

I think there is too much labeling going on in our world—whether in politics, gender, whatever—we seem to want to assess someone instantaneously and not get to know who they really are.

What do you hope audience members might learn by watching it?

I hope that they might become more open to those who are different and who process the world differently.

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