Solving Mystery of Curious Incident of Dog at CRT

Student actors perform onstage in the play,
Tyler Nowakowski as Christopher Ensemble, center with (L-R) Elizabeth Jebran, Matthew Antoci, Mauricio Miranda, Justin Jager, Nicolle Cooper, Alexandra Brokowski in the Connecticut Repertory Theatre production of Simon’s Stephens’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” (Photo coourtesy of Gerry Goodstein)

When Kristin Wold was asked to direct the Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s production of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” the Simon Stephens adaptation based on the novel by Mark Haddon, the assistant professor of acting in the School of Fine Arts was familiar with the playwright’s work.

Wold, a long-time actor and director with Shakespeare & Company, had directed CRT’s production of Stephens’s “Punk Rock” during the 2012-13 season and had a copy of “Curious Incident” on her bookshelf.

“I had it on my shelf but hadn’t read it,” she says of the play showing at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre through March 8. “I pulled it off my shelf. It’s beautiful. It’s a terrific play.”

What Wold did not recall was that her copy of the play was signed to her by Stephens, who did so at the request of a former student who had been part of the “Punk Rock” cast, and met the playwright while on a Study Abroad semester in London.

“I opened up the book and saw the inscription. I said: I guess I’m directing this play,” Wold says. “I took that as a good sign.”

The play centers on Christopher, a teenage amateur detective who is a mathematics genius struggling to interpret everyday life as he copes with an unidentified disorder on the autism spectrum. When Christopher is accused of killing a neighbor’s dog, he sets out to prove his innocence and his detective work takes him on a journey that turns his world upside-down and leads him to discover a life-changing secret.

With the lead character facing his own challenges on the autism spectrum, there will be a Sensory Friendly performance on March 7 at the 2 p.m. show, a first in CRT’s long history. The performance’s light and sound levels will be modified to accommodate individuals with sensory-input disorders, including autism spectrum, anxiety, and a range of cognitive abilities. Audience members can feel free to get up and move around during the performance, and there will be a Quiet Room available for those who need to take a break from the performance.

“This will connect us to a community that we had not yet invited into the theater in an intentional way,” says Michael Bradford, head of dramatic arts and artistic director of CRT.

The Stephens adaptation of “Curious Incident” for the stage in London’s West End (2012) and Broadway in New York City (2014) swept the Tony and Laurence Olivier Awards, including Best Play, Director, and Actor.

The cast includes Actors’ Equity Association members Joe Cassidy and Margot White, who have performed on Broadway and in regional theaters, as well as in films and on television shows including “Law and Order” and “Blue Bloods.” Tyler Nowakowski as Christopher leads the cast of student actors that includes Matthew Antoci, Alexandra Brokowski, Nicolle Cooper, Thalia Eddy, Justin Jager, Elizabeth Jebran, and Mauricio Miranda.

Wold says Nowakowski has embraced the lead role of his character.

“Tyler really has created him. He’s done his research and drawn upon that,” she says. “Christopher decides early on he’s going to write a book about who killed the dog. It’s a murder mystery. He doesn’t like things that are lies. He likes things that are true. His mission is to find out who killed Wellington, his neighbor’s dog, and in the midst of that he finds out about his family. He’s solving two mysteries. In the first half of the play he discovers hidden truths and deceptions. The second act is unwinding what he finds out.”

The student actors each have multiple roles in the production, which were written by Stephens into the script and requires them to be on stage for the entire show.

“There are six voices and they play many parts. They never leave the stage,” Wold says. “It’s a fun and challenging opportunity because they get to step into different roles and work on different characterizations. The ensemble of voices in the play also create a whole movement backdrop for the story. They’re supporting Christopher but also reflecting in a larger physical way what’s going on inside him. It’s been wonderful to work with the actors creating that.”

Bradford, the CRT artistic director, says the play presents the student actors with a unique and challenging opportunity as performers.

“I thought that was a great show because there would be some really solid roles for our students that would stretch them a little bit in a more contemporary piece of work,” he says.

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