Christopher (Jamie Sanders) lives in the mysterious world of autism. His movements are robotic, he hates being touched, he loves math, he struggles to communicate verbally, and he loves animals. When he discovers Mrs. Shears’s (Nicole Marie Green) dog Wellington impaled with a pitchfork, he is more than upset.
In Simon Stephens‘s play, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, based on the novel by Mark Haddon, currently onstage at Portland Center Stage at the Armory, the (fake) dead dog is merely the tip of the neighborhood iceberg.
After being interviewed by and punching a Policeman (Delphon “DJ” Curtis Jr.), then sent home with his father Ed (Leif Norby), Christopher launches an investigation into Wellington’s murder. Strongly discouraged by his father, Christopher will not be deterred. His most useful clues come from an elderly neighbor, Mrs. Alexander (Ithica Tell), and from there he opens a Pandora’s box of events, secrets, and lies that all lead back to him.
It’s a gripping mystery, populated by great characters including Christopher’s mom, Judy (Ayanna Berkshire), his school mentor Siobhan (Bree Elrod), Rev. Peters (Walter Coppage), Roger Shears (Karl Hanover), and No. 40 (Treasure Lunan). But the center of the story is Christopher and how he relates to the world around him.
Directed by Marissa Wolf, Jamie Sanders embodies the autistic 15-year-old Christopher every moment he’s on stage–which is the entire play–with fortitude and grace. From his character’s eye movements, choppy speech, stilted body language, bewilderment, and unreasonable demands, to his ability to solve advanced mathematics problems, to collapsing on the floor in fear and despair, his peculiar relationship to outer space, and his courage, Sanders soars in this play. It is a memorable performance, and one that has the ability to make us all more human.
The role of Christopher resonates with Sanders personally because he has Tourette Syndrome, a condition which made it difficult for him to fit in socially when growing up. Sanders first collaborated with PCS Artistic Director Marissa Wolf when she directed the play at Kansas City Repertory Theatre in 2018.
Arnulfo Maldonado’s cold, clinical set mirror’s Christopher’s separation from the pulsing humanity around him. It works particularly well to enhance the pace and anxiety in the train sequence on Christopher’s trip to London, as well as a beautiful scene where he talks about outer space.
Other members of the creative team include Erika Chong Shuch, choreographer; Alison Heryer, costume designer; Robert J. Aguilar, lighting designer; Brendan Aanes, original sound designer and composer; Sharath Patel, sound designer; Natalie Greene, associate choreographer; Mark Tynan, stage manager; Danny Rosales, production assistant; Claire F. Martin, assistant director; Chrissy McNair, neurodiversity consultant; Troy Sawyer, autism consultant; Scott Stackhouse, dialect coach, Nicole Marie Green, dance captain; Chip Miller and Will Cotter, casting.
The Curious Incident… runs through April 5 on the Mainstage at Portland Center Stage at the Armory.