The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

A protagonist with autism spectrum disorder investigates

The Black Swamp Players (BSP) have been producing and performing as a local theater group in the Bowling Green area since 1968. BSP President Heath Diehl has been energizing the group by choosing exciting new plays to draw audiences to its recently renovated theater space.

This season BSP will perform the award-winning 2013 play, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, based on the novel of the same name by Mark Haddon. Set in London, the story’s protagonist is 15-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone who is a math genius with autism spectrum disorder. “Curious Incident” is centered on a mystery involving the death of Wellington, a neighbor’s poodle, after Christopher finds the dog killed by a garden fork (animal lovers note, no violence or death of the titular dog is shown). To discover who killed Wellington, Boone encounters resistance from his neighbors, but most surprisingly from his widowed father, Ed. This leads Christopher on a journey that he’s determined to make despite the difficulties his autism sometimes presents.

Julie Zatko Directs

Bowling Green area native Julie Zatko makes her BSP directing debut with “Curious.” She has directed more than 50 high school and community theater productions as well as at The Toledo Rep. When the original director had to bow out, Zatko got a call asking her to take up directing duties. “I’m very excited to be working with Black Swamp Players. I love the shows they’ve been doing and the quality of their productions. This play is one of my favorites. It’s a wonderful script and a great theater, so it was an instant yes,” says Zatko. 

From Page to Stage

“One of the great things about the play is that it’s told completely through Christopher’s point of view. Using a combination of movement, light, and sound the play gives audience members a sense of what it feels like to be Christopher. Think of it as a virtual reality technique without the headset. As Christopher goes on his journey to learn more about his family and to solve the dog’s murder, there’s a real sense of what life is like for someone with autism spectrum disorder,” explains Zatko. She cites a scene where Christopher must navigate a train station with all it’s overwhelming lights and sounds. “You see him being affected by it and you can’t help but be affected too,” she says. “Not only do you see how his family tries to help him cope with the world, but also how other people he encounters are sometimes as confused as he is, like ticket people in the station or the police who have no experience with spectrum disorder. These scenes are simultaneously touching, moving and even funny.” Zatko goes on to explain that when she first saw the play, the plot twists and method of storytelling were unlike anything she could’ve anticipated and really drew her to the show. 

Various productions have used different staging techniques to convey Christopher’s experiences. Broadway productions used very sophisticated technical equipment with lighting and sound design, but smaller productions have used staging that doesn’t require expensive equipment but which are still very effective. Zatko explains, “I saw it done at a theater conference by a class of school kids and they did a fantastic job. They staged it in the round, putting the audience closer to the performers, and used some isolated lighting and movement to great effect.”  Based on that experience, that is how Zatko will stage the BSP production. She emphasizes that it’s important to portray Christopher’s autism accurately and with respect. “We have had several teachers who work with autism spectrum kids consult with us on things like movement and speech. Autism however is not what the play is about, says Zatko. “it’s about a young man’s journey to succeed, reach his goals, and know that he can do whatever he sets his mind to. As for the cast, “it’s a very moving show, and we have an amazing cast who aren’t afraid to go right to the emotional center of the play.”

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs Friday, April 21 through Sunday, April 30. Friday and Saturday shows begin at 8pm and Sunday performances begin at 2pm. $20. 115 E. Oak St., Bowling Green.