Woke up at 8am on Saturday morning and
waited 2 hours and a half—I finally got $30 general rush ticket
with slightly (but better than other remaining rush seats,
according to the veteran-box-office-staff-looking white-bearded grandfather)
obstructed view for the second to the last 2016 broadway show
of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
It was on the priority of my summer-to-do-list but
almost forgot until my friend, who flew 14 hours to
New York just to watch broadway musicals, recommended me
after watching the show a week ahead of me.
I had been actually trying lottery for few weeks, but had no luck.
Thanks to my friend, her description about the show
motivated me to get my ass off the bed and get the rush ticket.
As she described its digital-inspired set design,
the stage was a cube that both worked as a black
chalk-board and a huge LED screen. Not that the set
bombarded the audience with fireworks of LED colors,
but the spaces were constructed by simple lines, numbers,
shapes drawn by LED lighting. For example, white LED
borderlines and post code numbers shining on the
stage screens portrayed the houses in the neighborhood street.
It didn’t use a single prop to describe the road, playground,
bench, P.O. boxes on that street. And no audience (probably)
needed another explanation that this is Christopher’s
hometown street. Also, when Christopher, the protagonist,
travels from his suburban home to London via train, LED design
was enough to describe the passage of the trip—the windows
and the landscape passing through trees/clouds/villages
along with monotone 6-8 cubes of passenger seats.
“Fifteen-year-old Christopher has an extraordinary brain; he is exceptionally intelligent but ill-equipped to interpret everyday life.” —Curiousbroadway.com
His mindset and the way of thinking is probably
what we see in the stage—digital, numbers, and lighting,
without much realism. The way Christopher dreams, acts,
and describes his idea are quite different. He sometimes looks
too dramatic and speaks very straight-forward, as if he’s giving
a definite answer to a mathematical question. LED lightings
and square-formats of the set design visualize some of
Christopher’s characteristics and emphasizes the perspective of Christopher.
While this musical embraced modern design and technology,
it didn’t lose the human technique of the play.
If you have seen the musical War Horse, which was
produced by same team—National Theater of London,
you would remember that all the animals, especially goose,
are controlled as a wheel-toy by humans.
Christopher’s pet-rat was also flying in the boy’s dream
about the space and universe. How? You may imagine
based on what I just described (or the image above).
The boy’s chaotic situation in the train station,
underground tube, and his own dream get some help of human power.
He flies and transports through people’s arms and hands.
Instead of building a flying machine or huge realistic set props,
it proves how those actions can be simply done
without missing the emotional status of the character.
Although his inner universe was quite distant
from realistic set props, the storytelling of Christopher
and his family made me think twice about human interaction.
The boy starts screaming when someone touches him or hugs him.
Even his parents only touch him with careful gesture
of slow-motion high-five (which reminded me of that
popular Tarzan-Jane / E.T. finger gesture). He’s more
comfortable with numbers, math, and digital world.
The audiences were laughing at those small moments
implicating his ill-equipped-ness of interpreting everyday life
—he has no filter on what he’s saying, he doesn’t interact
with people like other characters in the show do.
Those might supposed to be laughing-points,
but at some point, I felt bitter about myself treating
those as humorous. That is something people with
autism or autistic family members/friends may go through
every day. Those with autistic family/friends need to
learn human interaction with a different perspective and
that’s not easy or funny. They try extra hard to make a
more comfortable environment for peers like Christopher.
If the set design were very detailed, realistic, maybe
the first impression would have been a realistic show.
But since the design is so simplified, it seems like it is
detached from our daily life. I would say such a
contradictory structure emphasized the basis about
human nature (characters and their emotions that
all plays talk about, of course.) As other details
are simplified, the core is underlined.
The environment of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
is not just a cool digital stage. It is a representation of the
boy’s inner world and a tool to emphasize other theatrical details.
Yesterday, which is approximately 2 weeks
after I watched the show, I encountered an autistic girl
on the subway. She was speaking loudly to
her sister/mother/friend-looking person, dragging her jackets.
She was saying broken sentences, something like
“Don’t leave me” or “Let’s get off the train”.
It is hard to imagine how to interact with people
with autism unless you have a direct experience.
Christopher was lucky to be smart, but,
according to my friend who has an autistic younger sister,
most of autistic kids are not born with such talents.
Understanding their mindset and world seems
like an indescribably hard process, and I could
indirectly experience only a slice of that through this musical.
In the show, Christopher’s world is more than
what we see in the real world. His dream seems
too big to be real, his actions are too adamant
to be true. But he does it and makes it happen.
Not all Christopher-s out there do such heroic stuff,
but themselves and family/friends around them
may feel every moment as a challenge, at least
in the beginning stage of their interactions.
Hopefully, this show delivers the feeling and
perspectives of (at least some) real Christoper-s
and their family/friends around us.