Saint Helena Drama opens “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” at 7 p.m. Friday at the St. Helena High School’s Performing Arts Center.
The story begins with Christopher (Reid Ivanoff) discovering his neighbor’s dead dog, Wellington, and revolves around Christopher’s efforts to find out who killed the dog. In the process, he defies his father, Ed (Frank Lenney), who has expressly told him not to pursue his investigation.
During the play, Christopher, a 15-year-old who has autism, seeks to solve the mystery, which leads him on a life-changing adventure. He ends up finding out so much more than he ever intended.
Central to the play is how Christopher perceives and interacts with the world around him. In the beginning of the play, the first act of which was performed Monday during a press preview, Christopher has an uncomfortable interaction with a policeman (Nicholas Jeworowski), who also plays Mr. Shears. As the policeman tries to touch Christopher, he reacts and strikes the cop, although not meaning to harm him. The next scene shows Christopher and his father talking to a detective in the police station. Christopher is issued a written warning for his actions.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is a play written by Simon Stephens and based on the novel by Mark Haddon. It is directed by Patti Coyle, who said in the program that her drama students had “the thrilling opportunity to see the Broadway production. It remains one of my most memorable moments of theater. I felt forever changed as a teacher, a mother, a human.”
Four performances are planned: 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. For tickets visit sthelenadrama.com or call 967-2711.
The 40-person cast and crew includes 10 seniors, including Douglas Collins, Stephen Collins, Adison Davison, Gavin Drumm, Rusty Frank, Aurora Jimenez, Deanna Molina, Hailey Peterson, Deni Ratterree and Scott Speck.
Douglas Collins said “The Curious Incident” is his ninth production with Saint Helena Drama. He plays a duty sergeant and is one of the six voices. When asked what was challenging about “Curious,” he said the play is very structured. “If you mess up a word, it messes up the next line, which is something we haven’t really had before,” he said. “We could work around it in previous productions.”
The set of “Curious” is a literally a black box, with a grid of white lines on the floor and the walls. It represents Christopher’s highly structured mind and presents a challenge to the actors.
“We’ve never had a grid before; I’ve had to learn how to walk on it,” Collins said. “When I exit, I have to keep in character the whole time. I try to keep the same lines every single time so that I have it in my mind.”
Another senior, Deni Ratterree, is both a part of the cast as Shopkeeper and Lady in the Street and crew.
“I help a little bit with tech but I work mostly on the projections we have up on the back wall,” Ratterree said. Those projections show Christopher in school, on the street or at home, for example. “I also help organize the props for the prop manager. With this play, everyone has to take control of the props because they’re all over the place,” she added.
The senior said she likes “Curious” because it is a really unique play, and she likes the technology that drives the projections and other parts of the play. “We have special lighting and we use square lights throughout the show to keep the uniformed grid look.”
The actors walk literally on a grid, Ratterree said, meaning they walk with sharp turns and don’t walk diagonally. “We try to keep it as structured as possible,” she added.
The lead character is freshman Reid Ivanoff, who is about a year younger than Christopher. Ivanoff, who has been in five productions with Saint Helena Drama, said he first read the book, then saw the show in San Francisco and “fell in love with it” because he has two close relatives, cousins, who have autism.
“I really wanted this lead in particular, I really strived for it and was really glad I got it,” he said on Monday afternoon. “It is such an important role for our society, our community and also for me personally to be able to experience this. I was really excited to be able to experiment with this character.”
He added he’s been experimenting with Christopher since he saw “Curious” in July. Auditions were late in August, after school started.
What is the hardest thing about playing Christopher? “Probably getting into the way he thinks and the way he reacts to certain things,” Ivanoff said. As someone on the autism spectrum, Christopher has different triggers than others and Ivanoff said he’s had to first identify those in the script and then understand them.
Christopher is Ivanoff’s first lead part, and the role has a lot of dialogue. Coyle, overhearing the discussion, said, “He’s doing an amazing job and he’s only a freshman.”