The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time


Through Saturday, Feb. 8 

Raleigh Little Theatre, Raleigh

For centuries, marginalized communities have seen themselves depicted on stages where they weren’t allowed to perform. 

Before the 1660s, women were forbidden by law to act in London’s theaters; similar cultural interdictions in England and America factored into the shameful history of blackface. In more recent times, producers have sought to excuse the casting of white actors as Asians or non-disabled actors as characters with physical disabilities as an expedient demanded by the lack of available performers from those communities.

As those practices have faded, neurotypical casting for non-neurotypical roles has remained a largely impermeable frontier. It wasn’t until 2017 that the first openly autistic actor was cast as the lead in a professional production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which is about a British special-education student named Christopher whose autism spectrum disorder has gifted him with advanced mathematical skills while challenging his abilities to process sensory stimuli and perceive and express emotions.

In his latest laudable initiative in expanding the “community” in community theater, Raleigh Little Theatre artistic director Patrick Torres sought out local actors with autism for this production of Curious Incident. The result is a singular achievement whose staggering authenticity and intimacy exposes the shortcomings of the professional touring production that played at DPAC three years ago. As the technical spectacle of that chilly National Theatre production distracted us with conceptual audiovisual filigree on a vacant holodeck, its heart remained remote at best. 

But at Raleigh Little Theatre, a rock-solid ensemble grounds us in the intellectual and emotional realities of Christopher’s world. In a gritty career-best performance, Simon Kaplan expertly probes the deep love and real limitations of Christopher’s father, Ed, a working-class single parent struggling to raise a child with special needs. Ed can’t be a perfect parent, and when his unfortunate acts of dishonesty and violence alienate Christopher, Kaplan fully embodies Ed’s desperation to reconnect.

Equally physical and compelling is Michael Larson’s work as Christopher. Larson ably conveys the calm, single-minded delight of a child who finds his native element in the pristine world of mathematics. But as this bright and circumscribed character is forced to navigate the unfamiliar emotional landscape of adult relationships, Larson’s gripping performance authoritatively embodies his emotional turmoil and physical pain in the wake of revelations about his parents. 

As Christopher reads a forbidden letter from his mother (poignantly performed by Rebecca Blum), he seems to be on the verge of committing ritual suicide as he grasps a length of metal model railroad track in both hands. No production has left me more shaken in quite some time. Larson’s chemistry with Kaplan, Blum, and Samantha Corey as his teacher, Siobhan, is something to behold, and strong supporting work reinforces the formidable nucleus of a production whose authentic casting marks a significant step forward in regional theater. 

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