The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time
Review of Encore Performance at NYU Skirball Center, October 26, 2012.

Not cinematic rendition but video documentation of the play, as performed in the National Theatre in the UK. The performance was staged in the round, with innovative special and sound effects and minimal props and sets. These included several unadorned multi-use moveable pedestals (these cost-effective but minimalist items were not only used as seats, but as escalator steps, a train interior, luggage, and, in one instance, with appropriately-timed sound effects along with a performance best left to the imagination, a toilet.

The stage was divided into grids, finished with blackboard paint (this was crucial, because among other things, Christopher used it to draw a chalk outline of the dead dog, which he quickly surrounded by a mind-map of the crime as he saw it). The stage surface, studded with tiny LED lights, was a large and more technically sophisticated light-brite, which made possible the flexibility of the staging, meaning the story could quickly switch from Christopher’s walk around the neighborhood, with the footprints of neighbors’ houses drawn in white light for Christopher to walk past, to his time at school, and various rooms in his home.

This unique stage also provided the perfect means for displaying the complicated algebra and geometry problem which got him his top score on the math A-levels, a faithfulness to the book and the style of the narrative which might not have otherwise been possible. Given the nature of the book, a complex internal narrative from the point of view of an autistic teen whose world has been limited, and whose sensory issues make such crowded, noisy, and distracting places as train stations more frightening and difficult for him to navigate than for neurotypical persons, I was not the only one who wondered how this deep and silent internal narrative could be translated to words and actions effective for the purposes of the theatre.

Neither those who valued adherence to the book nor those who were assessing the dramatic performance immediately in front of them (effectively presented upon a larger than average, square, rather than rectangular, screen) were disappointed. The other characters all have a say in Christopher’s internal monologue, and their sometimes conflicting influences add to his sensory and emotional overload. His father’s discouragements and criticisms echo in his head, as well as his more positive talk. Beloved teacher Siobhean, who is also effectively a social worker/counselor to him, is seen as a Jimminy Cricket to his Pinnochio.

Other characters begin their parts, but then repeat themselves or revise their actions, depending on Christopher’s re-telling of the story, and re-stating of the details. A moment of levity ensues when a police officer steps into the scene, and then is described as a different police officer from the one who had been on the train with Christopher previously. He hands off his police hat and vest to a different man in police uniform, who steps onto the stage and continues the scene, the edges of the stage being the borders of Christopher’s mental picture-making.

Prior to the showing of the play itself, the theatre presented a making-of-the-production featurette which showed various aspects of the staging and rehearsals. Revealed in this movie about the movie about the play was the fact that in order to realistically present in performance the behavior of Christopher and of the people he encounters, they utilized the services of an autism consultant who was, herself, on the spectrum. She used the opportunity to comment on the perception that autistic people lack imagination. This overgeneralization is not quite accurate. While they might not be able to accurately guess others’ motives in social situations, the ability to generate original imagery and ideas remains.

After the show, Stephen Yoffe wheeled out on stage to lead the discussion of various aspects of the show, among them the fact that the play ended on an ambiguous note. Christopher, his self-confidence boosted by having solved the mystery, successfully taken the train to London, and evaded the police, saying he could “do anything”, with a questioning tone at the end of the statement, following a monologue about his future aspirations to take the rest of the A-levels (comprehensive university entry exams), go to university in a less crowded and busy metropolitan area than London, become a scientist, and then an astronaut, after having successfully departed both his parents’ households for a flat of his own and independent adulthood. All his life, he had been told by society as a whole and more immediately and personally, by the authority figures in his own life, that he wasn’t capable of doing certain things. He had to have felt a certain amount of triumph in having successfully torn apart a tissue of lies, evaded the police, and taken the train to London on his own.

Given that the British legal system, school system, and police force are quite different from those in the USA, it is to be noted that Christopher’s story could very well have unfolded quite differently at any point, had it been set in the USA.
It was perhaps deliberately left open-ended as to whether Christopher could or would be successful in these and/or other goals (one audience member suggested that unmentioned and perhaps undervalued in this scenario were “different kinds of success”, such as the future possibility of Christopher successfully making friends, having a relationship, perhaps marrying and having children). The fact that Christopher drew a large face with a smile on the stage floor during the conclusion of the play was viewed as a milestone for Christopher in understanding both the facial expression and the emotion behind it.

My Own Love Song

My Own Love Song is a story about life after a car accident for a women who survived paraplegia and a stay in the psych ward. The movie opens with Jane Wyatt, a former singer, being chatted up by a man in a bar who seems to be into her, but realizes that he “has to go somewhere” after he spots her wheelchair.

Jane Wyatt has a son, but her child had been taken away to foster care by the State after the accident. While disability, sudden or not, should not mean that your children are taken away, it may be that the jurisdiction where the story is set has a law similar to the one in NY that states that when parents get a diagnosis of mental illness and/or become inpatients in a psychiatric hospital, their children must be removed from parental custody. There is lobbying in NY to get this law changed, though there are some merits to this approach.

It is because Jane feels that her house, her finances, and her capacity to act as an effective, loving parent after having been absent from her son’s life for so long are inadequate, that she hides a letter from her son, inviting her to his Communion party. The concealed letter is found after some snooping around the house on the part of Joey, her “buddy”, a black man with a stammer and a seeming anxiety problem who serves as her informal personal care attendant and “shadow”, and describes himself during the course of the picture as “an ex-fireman” and “her bodyguard”.

The problem is that he is also a “specialist who can talk to ghosts”, sees angels in the sky, and gets into physical confrontations with people who mock this belief in the supernatural. It is implied that Joey is a schizophrenic. There are a couple of well-designed scenes which depict his perception and the angels he presumably sees in a subtle fashion. (Just as magically and mystically, the parking lot of the motel where they sit and look at the moon has a petite wooden wheelchair ramp leading from the curb to the blacktop.)

While it is clear that Jane, who met Joey in the psych ward, does not share his beliefs about the supernatural, and is put in untoward situations with the neighbors and the authorities when he decompensates or escapes from the psychiatric hospital, she nevertheless considers that The System gave him a raw deal, lying to cover for him when the police and mental health authorities come to her door, looking for him and reminding her of the penalty for harboring a fugitive. (Situations like these are enough to make a schizophrenic paranoid.)

The two decide to leave town until the situation cools off, and set off in a car that, soon after, catches fire. Any self-respecting paraplegic would have thrown themselves out of the smoking car, but Jane waits for Joey to retrieve her and her wheelchair. Indeed, Jane often is shown with someone pushing her (which actually annoys many genuine paraplegics to the point that they remove the push handles from their wheelchairs). She largely depends on Joey day-to-day, even though there are times when he has the potential to be a danger to himself and others. She has a manual chair, a regular car without hand controls which someone else (usually Joey) drives.

Life has some unusual hazards for female paraplegics. While Jane seems to have the ability to go some places without Joey–she attends physical therapy sessions outside the home, how she gets there is not shown–she is on several occasions confronted with situations that range from vaguely creepy to genuinely dangerous, like the man she meets on her journey who offers to give her a shower, or a bubble bath, and asks if she can “feel anything”. He explains by saying “for a long time, I couldn’t feel anything in here (indicating his heart). I can walk, but I think I’m crippled, too”. He proves it when he takes off in her new (to her) car after nothing happens between them.

Jane, Joey, and Billie (a non-disabled woman they pick up who becomes something of a love interest for Joey despite her erstwhile married status) must continue their journey on inaccessible buses and trains. On one train platform, Billie decides to return to her plain life, without the nuts.

The movie comes to a presumably happy ending after Jane resumes her singing career (she somehow gets on stage at a honky-tonk in spite of there being no wheelchair ramp to the platform being in evidence), reconnects with her son and performs with Joey on guitar at the Communion party, and embarks on a relationship with Joey; schizophrenia, angel sightings, and all.

Warning: deaf and hard-of-hearing folks should not rent this movie from Netflix or buy it. Legende Films deliberately removed the captions from the rental DVDs in order to force people who need them to buy the DVD, and Netflix did not see fit to declare such disks defective. For this reason, My Own Love Song goes in the Disability Movie Hall of Shame.