British author Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” is not one that immediately comes to mind for page to stage (or screen) adaptation. First-person narratives are often difficult that way, let alone a first-person account from a teenage narrator rumored to be on the Autism spectrum, who describes himself as having some “behavioral difficulties,” and who’s trying to solve a mystery. (Gives a whole new meaning to unreliable narrator.)
But the play, adapted by Simon Stephens in 2012, has been a stand-out hit, winning five Tony Awards in 2015, including for best play. Described by The New York Times as “one of the most fully immersive works to ever wallop Broadway,” “Curious Incident” gets most of its snaps from its set design and direction. Drawing on protagonist Christopher’s mathematic aptitudes, the stage is laid out as a perfect grid and meant to mimic the way in which Christopher sees the world and internally organizes his thoughts and feelings. In this way, the supporting cast is presented to the audience the way Christopher sees them and we get a sense of what it’s like to experience the world in a completely new light.
“Curious Incident” closes out the 2016-2017 season at ASU Gammage. Ahead of opening night, PHOENIX spoke with 2015 Juilliard grad Adam Langdon, 24, who plays Christopher.*
Tickets available at asugammage.com
This is your first Broadway tour. How’s it going?
It’s been about 8 months, plus rehearsal and I have about three months left [ending in Las Vegas]. It was a really intense rehearsal process but it’s been really awesome. I learned the goal is to work and to enjoy the work that you’re getting. It’s a job like anyone else’s but we’re lucky because we get to play around all day.
How did you land a coveted lead role?
I went to school with Alex Sharpe, who originated the part on Broadway. He was my buddy in the year above me [at Juilliard]. He told me I would play this role one day and I said he was wrong. I first auditioned… it was a pretty bad audition, but luckily they forgot about that, and they asked me to come back in for this tour.
Tell us about the role of Christopher. How did you prepare to become a character that’s so internally driven?
Christopher is this incredible, incredible part. He’s so intelligent, he loves math, he loves his pet rat Toby – who gives him an ingrained sense of protectiveness, who he can build a schedule around – he’s a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes [the play’s title is a Sherlock quote from the short story “Silver Blaze”]. He also has these hang-ups on things – certain colors don’t agree with him, certain sounds. We met with a few awesome young dudes in this after-school program [before going on tour for character development] and they’re all very different, they’re their own guys, you can’t put a label on them [as opposed to labeling them autistic]. The best way to label Christopher is he’s just a human, he’s just a 15-year-old boy who goes on this adventure.
The play reportedly doesn’t use the word “Autism,” but rather “on the spectrum.” What does this distinction mean to you?
I think it traces back to Mark Haddon, who had a lot of contact and worked with people on the spectrum. He really made that decision. When writing Christopher, [he said], ‘I’m not going to diagnose him or play doctor.’ Another way to look at it is to think that maybe Christopher isn’t diagnosed. It’s a very recent thing… not everyone has access to [health care systems] that can diagnose.
How does the play translate Christopher’s aptitude for math and a scientific way of seeing the world onto the stage?
The set is this awesome piece. It’s kind of like the Matrix. Everything is in a grid… It like a Tetris box that’s meant to mimic Christopher’s brain.
There is some complex choreography made more complicated by the set, right?
The choreography is really intense. It’s very physically demanding. One of the things Christopher finds [during the play] is his bravery. At that point, I have to kneel on people’s shoulders and fall backward blindly. When learning it, I thought I will be brave with Christopher.
Why do you think interpretations of people on the spectrum, or who are otherwise different in whatever manner, are important in the arts and pop culture?
Because I think everyone needs representation. It’s up to us [as artists and audience] to learn and not be taught. This play can be one of the ways for people to see things in a new way.
* Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.