Next up at the South Camden Theatre Company’s Waterfront South Theatre is “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” based on the award-winning 2003 novel by British author Mark Haddon and adapted for the stage by Simon Stephens. The production opens on Nov 3 and continues Friday and Saturday evenings, and Sunday afternoons through Nov 19, 2023.
The play starts when Christopher Boone, the 15-year-old central character, self-described as a “mathematician with some behavioral difficulties.” makes an unfortunate discovery and sets out to learn who is behind the disturbing deed.
For this feature, I talked with several people involved with the South Camden Theatre Company (SCTC) including Robert Bingaman, SCTC Board President and Trustee; Artistic Director Dawn M. Varava; Joel Guerrero, who directed this play; and Jeff Pfeiffer, who plays 15-year-old Christopher Boone, the narrator for this first-person story.
At the time I did these interviews, I had recently seen the company’s production of “Alabama Story,” which takes place in Alabama in the 1950s. This prompted me to learn more about the theatre’s 2023 season.
Varava agreed. “We try to be current with things that might matter,” she said. “My theme for this season is the human condition.”
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” certainly fits the bill.
Christopher’s mental and emotional health situation is never stated (though the book’s blurb refers to Asperger’s syndrome), and the author explained on his blog in 2009 that the book is not about a specific disorder. “If anything,” he wrote, “it is a novel about differences, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way.”
Jeff Pfeiffer, who portrays Christopher, describes his character as being “out of the mainstream and very complicated.”
“It is important to recognize that people with autism are fully unique, complex individuals, just like those in the non-autistic community,” he said.
“This play has a lot of lessons in it.”
Although Pfeiffer is not able to set himself completely in Christopher’s situation, he said he can relate. “Both Christopher and I have intense things we deal with that affect our everyday lives,” Pfeiffer said. “We see and receive the world a bit differently.”
“Trust is a major theme,” he said. “If Christopher trusts you, that’s where he can show love.”
“Christopher does this thing where he puts out his hand and touches a person’s fingertips,” Guerreo said. “It is about as much contact as he can handle.”
This may seem like a small gesture for those outside of his trust circle, but for people looking for an emotional connection with him, it is everything. “It may have taken him years to work up to that comfort level,” Guerrero said.
“There are many emotional exchanges involving Christopher and, as an actor, you feel like you want to give him hug, or tousle his hair,” Guerrero said. “But you cannot do that. You need to find other ways to show connection.”
Just dealing with his difficult family circumstances and concerns is enough to make Christopher wary, but he is also in the throes of his teenage years.
“Being a teenager is hard enough,” Guerrero said. “This is like taking a regular teenage boy and turning it up to 15.”
Guerrero made another observation, “Christopher has a particular understanding and trust in how things should be.” “People around him should be good. Parents should love their children.”
This perception may explain why Christopher is more comfortable with animals than he is with people.
His best friends are his pet rat, Toby, and Wellington, the neighbor’s dog. “He feels more comfortable with animals than he does with people,” Pfeiffer said. “He doesn’t have to speak to them.”
A significant side-story is Christopher’s passion and proficiency for mathematics, and at one point, he is in an absolute panic about the possibility of missing his A-Level math exam.
I asked Pfeiffer why he thinks that math is so important to his character. “Math is something that Christopher does understand. He finds safety in it,” he said. “It is definite, there is just one answer. It is not abstract thinking.”
“It is important to keep in mind that people think and act differently,” Varava said. “We try to show that with different staging –video projections and other multi-media effects –to suggest how Christopher perceives things.
Aside from telling an intriguing story, presenting a play with undertones like this one is an invitation for those who live with a comparable situation to share the experience with others.
“We believe that creating theatre is about making a safe space for everyone,” Bingaman said. “There are people from all aspects of life in our theatre community. A story like this just adds another level.”
“We were the only arts organization in Camden when we started in 2005,” Bingaman said. “We incorporated in 2008, and in 2010, Heart of Camden gave us the keys to the building.”
“Heart of Camden has been at the heart of all of it,” he said. “So many companies perform in places other than a theatre. We are blessed.”
Bingaman also credits the Domenica Foundation for which the auditorium is named. “They funded a lot of work on the theatre.”
Bingaman believes that continuing to produce first-class theatre is not only good for SCTC but for the city of Camden as well. “We are helping to change the perception of the city for those who don’t live there.”
“They can come to Camden, have a wonderful evening of theatre, and not have any issues.”
“It is quite an experience to be part of this growing arts organization,” he said. “Dawn (Varava) and I are working hard to develop a young people’s theatre program, and we have developed a relationship with Triple Threat Theater Company to do a summer camp.”
It will connect us more to Camden and help take our theatre to the next level.”
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” runs Nov 3-19, 2023 in Camden. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.