The curious journey of “The Curious Incident”

by | Feb 19, 2022 | Arts and Entertainment | 0 comments

During “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” the 15-year-old protagonist, Christopher, travels the 71 miles from his home in Swindon to London. The teenager, who is a mathematical genius but who has a behavioral issue that never is specified in the play (or in the novel that inspired it), is overwhelmed and stressed by the sights and sounds of the journey.

In some ways, Christopher’s difficult trip is reminiscent of the stressful multiyear journey that director Sarah Sheldrick and her cast and crew have endured to bring “The Curious Incident” to the Majestic Theatre stage. The production begins streaming Saturday, Feb. 19 on the Majestic’s website and can be accessed through Saturday, Feb. 27.

“The Curious Incident” originally was scheduled for live performances in early 2020 at the Majestic. Sheldrick had cast the show, assembled her crew, and was well into rehearsals when the first wave of the coronavirus hit. The Majestic pulled the plug on the show and rescheduled it for 2022.

The February 2022 production was scheduled to be the first post-pandemic theatrical event to play before a full house at the Majestic. Sheldrick started work on the show by holding another set of auditions. The two leads cast in 2020, Vincent Bottaro (who plays Christopher) and mid-valley theater veteran Harriet Owen-Nixon (who plays Siobhan, Christopher’s mentor at his school,) also had to audition again, but again won the roles.

“I have to say, it is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life, to completely reaudition an entire show,” Sheldrick said. “Because of new people showing up (at the auditions), I had to make some really tough choices and not everyone could come back.”

From the left: Vincent Bottaro, Sarah Sheldrick and Harriet Owen-Nixon pose on the set of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” The Majestic Theatre production is now streaming on the theater’s website, majestic.org.

The 2022 production was well into rehearsals when the omicron variant of the coronavirus started to peak. The plan for live performances before a full house morphed into a plan for performances at half-capacity. And then, as omicron cases continued to grow, that turned into the video production, shot on stage before a small audience of family and friends, and assembled by Majestic staff members into the streaming version that debuts Saturday.

But for the cast and crew – and especially those who had been with the 2020 production – all that came with a measure of pain. “There was just a little bit of a feeling that we were hitting a brick wall again,” Sheldrick said.

But her cast and crew persevered, drawing energy from each other: “We have learned to rely on one another,” said Owen-Nixon. “And we’ve been supportive of each other through it.”

And the strength of the play – which has collected both Olivier and Tony awards – proved to be a key touchstone for everyone involved.

Sheldrick had read Mark Haddon’s novel years before Simon Stephens adapted it for the stage. She was immediately struck by the book: “I definitely feel strongly about stories that are representational of different perspectives. … Even our most famous movies or TV shows often rely on shortcuts and stereotypes about neurodiverse people as a way to compartmentalize them. And I feel that this book and the show really allows Christopher to be himself. He gets to name who he is.”

The book and play also struck a more personal note with Sheldrick, who is dyslexic. She recalls, as a student in the 1970s, “being taken out of classrooms and put into special rooms with other neurodiverse kids because they just didn’t know what to do with me. …. So I really relate to that feeling of being on the outside and not being included.”

In the play, Christopher sets out to solve a mystery – the death of a neighborhood dog, speared with a sharp garden fork. The teenager solves the mystery, but not before uncovering other secrets about his own family.  

The play presents the story as writings by Christopher, read aloud by Siobhan. It’s a structure that allows audience members to see matters from Christopher’s point of view: “I think there’s an inclusiveness to the story because Christopher is the one telling us the story, he’s the one who’s really telling us who he is,” Sheldrick said.

The productions in London and New York used effects such as video projections to convey the sensory overload that Christopher sometimes feels. One advantage of delaying the production of “Curious Incident” is that the Majestic has dramatically upgraded its projection equipment since 2020. “We have a completely different show than we would have been doing,” Sheldrick said, and the imagery projected “moves along the line from concrete to abstract.”

But, she added: “We didn’t need the technology for this show to be strong.”

“I think this show is so beautiful,” she said, “and with what these actors have poured their heart – some of us for years – into this show, I think there’s a lot of gratitude to see it to the end. So I’m happy to be at that point.”

To some extent, though, the canceled 2020 effort haunts the 2022 production.

“I was really married to that last show,” Sheldrick said. And then, “there was a ripping-apart. That show got ripped up into pieces.”

But that puts her in mind of a Japanese art form, kintsugi, in which a piece of pottery is broken, “and you have to glue it back together with gold. When something’s broken, and it gets put back together, even when you can see those broken lines, it becomes even more beautiful. And there’s something about the show that is even more beautiful now, even though we’ve been dropped a few times.”

“So I’m really grateful for the courage of these actors,” she said. “Every single one of the people who auditioned, who are in the show, and everyone who’s had hands on this show, this show is because of every single person who stepped with us along the way.”

If You Watch

What: “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” a play by Simon Stephens (based on the novel by Mark Haddon), presented by the Majestic Theatre.

When: The play is streaming on the Majestic’s website, majestic.org, beginning Saturday, Feb. 19 and continuing through Saturday, Feb. 27.

How much: Steaming access costs $11. Click here for information about how to buy streaming access.

Cast and crew: Sarah Sheldrick is the director. The cast includes Vincent Bottaro as Christopher, the 15-year-old protagonist and Harriet Owen-Nixon as Siobhan, his mentor at school. Other cast members include Kimberly Olbrich, Kyle Ross, Tim Harris, Calvin Harris, Tresa Bowlin, Mitchell Butzner, Wolfgang Dengler, BreAnna Manassa and Kathie O’Brien.

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