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'The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time' Forges Human Connections

Kristin Schoenback
Laura Kennedy
Kristin Schoenback directs "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time." She hopes the play will help audiences gain better understanding of those on the spectrum.

Wellington the dog is dead. Cristopher Boone is on the case, and the search for the killer takes him on an adventure that leads to some surprising revelations.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is an award-winning book by Mark Hadden that became an award-winning play by Simon Stevens. The show opens Oct. 26 at the Illinois State University Center for the Performing Arts and offers a poignant and genuine look into the emotional workings of a teenager who describes himself as a mathematician with some behavioral difficulties.

"The idea is that we're seeing him as a human being and not putting him into a box that we label."

Christopher is a teenager with an extraordinary brain.In the course of the play, the audience is allowed inside, following along as Christopher embarks on an unlikely adventure as he tries to solve the mystery of the murder of his neighbor’s dog. Kristin L. Schoenback is the director of the show, and she confesses that she fell hard for the book on which the play is based when she first read it as a 13-year-old.

“It was this book about differences and how the world is full of people who are different than us and how we tend to ostracize them. I think that’s because of fear. The reason I wanted to direct this play is to give our audience a little taste of Christopher and his world and, hopefully, encourage people to look beyond those fears and create a less lonely or divisive world.” 

Neither Simon Stevens or Mark Hadden actually diagnose Christopher as autistic in the play or book, but Schoenback feels his behavior reveals a young man on the spectrum. 

“Christopher sees things in such a unique way, and while it’s different, it’s not bad or wrong. When we watch Christopher, we’re let into his world and we empathize with him. The idea is that we’re seeing him as a human being and not putting him into a box that we label. Logic makes sense to him. Ritual and repetition make sense to him.” 

Christopher’s investigation into the murder of Wellington turns into something bigger and bolder, Schoenback explained, just as the audience is confronted with facing their fears and prejudices about people who are different. 

“He displays certain behaviors and we as audience members can see that we are putting him in that autistic box. We have to face the fact that we just did that and wrestle with that during the play.” 

One of the major challenges with the play is trying to show the audience everything that Christopher sees and feels because the character is very specific in how he processes information.

“He’s unable to showcase his emotions as clearly as other people. So we wanted to create a space where he could give over to that. It’s a highly physical play. We have a giant ensemble that helps Christopher build and construct the things he’s describing. When Christopher runs into things that might make him feel uncomfortable or sad or angry, he’s not able to showcase that, so we have an entire ensemble there to help elevate that emotion and give it over to the audience.” 

The run of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" is Oct. 26 through Nov. 3 and includes a sensory-friendly performance at 2 p.m. on Oct. 28 to offer a performing arts experience that is welcoming to families with children with autism or other disabilities that experience sensory sensitivities.

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Reporter, content producer and former All Things Considered host, Laura Kennedy is a native of the Midwest who occasionally affects an English accent just for the heck of it. Related to two U.S. presidents, Kennedy appalled her family by going into show business.