“How interesting!” is what kept running through my mind as I observed Christopher (Alex Sharp) in Simon Stephens’ Tony award winning play, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time playing at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. In peeking curiosity I was then caught in an inner puzzle fitting together pieces of information about how Christopher interacts with the world as he led me through his own investigation into how the world fits into the murder of his neighbour’s dog called Wellington.
It becomes clear very early on in the play that Christopher’s understanding of the world runs at a different pace and through a different cerebral maze as compared to the people he loves most; his beloved teacher, Siobhan (Francesca Faridany), his mother Judy (Enid Graham) and his father Ed (Ian Barford).
A starkly obvious observation involves the physical limitations that Christopher has in his dealings with the world. The movement of his hands, the mannerisms in his face and the way he moves his head and shoulders makes him noticeably different from the other characters in the play. These physical limitations pose a unique obstacle for this character in that, unlike the majority of ‘normal’ people, Christopher cannot hide his differences (the physical ones anyway).
To overcome his obstacles Christopher uses his strengths – which seems necessary in overcoming adversity. He is most proud of his math skills and enjoys letting math influence the way he lives his life – he finds beauty and illumination in the information, images and emotional needs flowing around him.
Sharp is brilliant at overcoming the physical and cerebral limitations of his character to allow us into his thoughts and ideas. To understand Christopher I was forced to take into account that looking at a situation from different angles reveals new ideas and details that may have been overlooked otherwise. One detail in particular is that in not overlooking the gravity of the murder of the neighbour’s dog… Christopher’s investigation leads him to help his parents take a closer look at their own emotional ordeals and what makes them tick.
Christopher gave me a lesson in constantly taking the focus off the self and placing it on others – in a constant state of discomfort (he doesn’t like to be touched and is overwhelmed by the cacophony of sounds and sensations around him) he is always looking to see what the person in front of him, or the scenario in front of him, will reveal about the overarching question of who killed the neighbour’s dog and eventually – why?
The dog’s death is described by Judy as a “small crime” that will not be investigated by authority unless the owner presses charges. In focusing on the crime, however, Christopher is given the strength and will power to reconnect with his mother and forgive his father’s mistakes. His parents are forced to communicate and work together to help Christopher reach his potential at school. These important occurrences and the meeting of Christopher’s own emotional needs would have been overlooked if he had decided to treat the dog’s murder as a ‘small crime’. It is as if he pulled apart the triangular distance between his mother, his father and himself and then filled it’s previously empty volume with love and communication. This is a difficult feat for a boy with obstacles in his ability to communicate and express emotions with others.
And so I repeat, “how interesting!”.
Christopher’s love for himself screams self-confidence and inspired me to challenge the way I look at the world more often. I was not alone as I placed a piece of confetti in my pocket to safe-keep my memories of this night. Christopher cued the confetti after solving a math problem in a sort of ‘encore’ and I watched the confetti drifting overtop the audience as we funnelled our way towards the exit. Walking back into the cacophony of taxis, crowds and lights lining Broadway theatres on my stroll back to the subway… I resolved to hide my differences less often.
In accepting his Tony for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play, Sharp reflected on what the play is really about…
“[A] young person who is different and who is misunderstood and I want to dedicate this [Tony] to any young person out there who feels misunderstood or who feels different and answer that question at the end of the play for you. ‘Does that mean I can do anything?’ Yes it does.”