Actor Ryan Didato stars in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.EXPAND
Actor Ryan Didato stars in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.
Courtesy of Zoetic Stage

The Arsht Center's Curious Incident Has a Curious Creative Process

After premiering in London’s West End, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime tied the record for most Olivier Awards received by a single play. For those unaware, the Olivier Awards are the Tonys of London. For those who are further unaware, the Tony Awards are the Super Bowl for theater people.

Soon the play, based on the novel Mark Haddon, was revived on Broadway. Then it was reproduced on stages across the globe, including China and Mexico. The story resonated with the international theater community.

"The novel is from this boy’s [point of view] and written by him, and the play is similar to that,” says director Stuart Meltzer, whose adaptation is set to premiere at the Adrienne Arsht Center Thursday, January 17.

The original source material is a first-person novel written from the perspective of Christopher, a 15-year-old with a social disorder that places him somewhere on the autism spectrum. He uses his unique set of skills to solve the murder of a neighborhood dog.

Any portrayal of a character with a condition like Christopher’s must be done both carefully and respectfully, the cast emphasizes.

“I don’t want to do a caricature,” says actor Ryan Didato, who plays Christopher in the Miami production. “I take what the character says about himself in the play — he doesn’t like loud noises, he doesn’t like being touched, he doesn’t like making eye contact with people — so I’m taking these cues and layering them into my character.”

Didato describes his character as “upright and rigid.” He, along with the rest of the cast, had to undergo a rigorous choreography process to perfect the way the characters move.

“The show is large, and our space isn’t large,” Meltzer says. “So what happens is that there’s so much happening creatively with the ten actors and two stage managers and myself and the movement coordinator that it becomes something else as opposed to a rehearsal.”

The play itself was a logistical nightmare to coordinate. This has something to do with Christopher’s condition.

“Christopher’s life happens right in front of him, so when he walks into a room, if he’s going to the microwave on the other side of the room, that microwave isn’t there until he gets to it,” says Jeni Hacker, a dancer-turned-actress who served as the movement coordinator of the play.

In the play, objects in Christopher’s imagination are personified by an ensemble of six actors. If he uses a microwave, one of the six actors plays the microwave.

“We’re taking liberties,” Hacker says, comparing the movement to the one popularized by I Dream of Jeannie. “She’s not turning herself into a box.”

However, she mentions the actors contorting themselves into more intricate objects such as a train or an escalator. Neither Hacker nor Meltzer saw the original production, so this is their approach to bringing the story to the stage.

“I’m not a slave to other people’s ideas. However, the creativity that production gives directors allows them to explore the play physically,” Meltzer says, comparing his work to that of the original production. “It’ll have a similar look, but there aren’t many theaters in our community that would be able to afford that exact production because it’s so expensive.”

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. Thursday, January 17, through Sunday, February 3, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; arshtcenter.org. Tickets cost $55.

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