'Curious' theater: CityRep stages regional premiere of Tony-winning play for Autism Awareness Month
Four years ago, Cameron Law woke up before Times Square’s iconic lights even turned on to snag student rush tickets to the curiously titled a play, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”
“I’ve loved this show ever since I saw it on Broadway. … I was just enthralled the whole time because I’d never seen anything like it. I’d always gone to see musicals and things, but plays didn’t come touring through where I was,” said Law, who hails from Fort Smith, Arkansas.
“I’ve just been so connected to this story for so long. It just felt like it was a story I needed to tell, and I’m excited I get to tell it now.”
An acting student at Oklahoma City University, Law stars in Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre’s regional premiere production of “The Curious Incident.”
Centered on Christopher Boone, an English teenager on the autism spectrum trying to solve the mystery of who killed his neighbor’s dog, the show won five 2015 Tony Awards, including best play. CityRep is performing Simon Stephens’ stage adaptation of Mark Haddon’s acclaimed best-selling novel Thursday through April 7 at the Civic Center's Freede Little Theatre.
“It’s one of the most highly regarded plays of the last decade. It opened in London and won seven Olivier Awards, which was the highest total ever won in history to that point ... and then it went to Broadway and it won five Tony Awards. Then, it toured nationally as a straight play, which was rare enough, but they extended the tour three times because it was so popular and profitable,” said Donald Jordan, CityRep’s founding artistic director.
“Everybody who sees this story is touched and affected by it. ... It’s a plea about understanding and appreciating that Christopher is differently abled but amazingly abled.”
Law said he wants to authentically depict traits the character has that are commonly associated with autism — Christopher is uncomfortable with strangers, dislikes being touched and gets overstimulated by loud sounds — without putting on a big show.
“Christopher is very smart but has trouble with social interactions. … But he’s incredibly bright and loves math and animals,” Law said. “A lot of my training, I’m doing the opposite of. Like, I love making eye contact with people when I’m talking on stage and everything, and I don’t get to do that as much. … So, it’s been a challenge, but it’s been a fun challenge.”
Neither the book nor the play ever labels Christopher with a specific diagnosis. CityRep Affiliated Artist W. Jerome Stevenson, who is directing, said he thinks that was intentional.
“That limits who we’re talking to, and the thing made the show exceptional is that it opened up a whole group of audience members who were like, ‘That’s me,'" said Stevenson, who is African-American. “I know what it is like to experience it when you see yourself realized in art and culture, and it’s a really unique experience. I say, ‘Wow, I didn’t grow up seeing’ — using a broad example — 'Black Panther.' That didn’t exist for me when I was a kid, but it exists for my son."
CityRep is staging the show during National Autism Awareness Month and partnering with Autism Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Autism Network to provide information and resources. Stacey Weddington, director of community impact for Autism Oklahoma, said the play depicts Christopher as so much more than a diagnosis.
“All of our kids wear their autism differently … But there is sort of a defined list of things that are common to kids on the spectrum or adults on the spectrum, and I think they’ve done a great job pulling some of those out and incorporating those into the story. And they weave it through in a respectful way,” she said.
“When we talk about autism awareness, I think everybody’s aware that autism is out there. But to have an understanding of what it looks like and some empathy (is crucial). It comes down to just some basic decency and kindness.”
'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time'
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 1:30 p.m. April 7.
Where: Civic Center Music Hall’s Freede Little Theater, 201 N Walker.
Tickets and information: 848-3761 or www.cityrep.com.