Nov. 29th, 2015

Today we saw The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. To say much about what I thought of it, I need to sort of pick it up and put it in a little bubble, a vacuum wherein you can talk about it on a technical level separate from its role as art in a larger context.

Inside that bubble, it is one of the best shows I've ever seen, and you should go see it. The staging is like nothing I've seen before. Other shows we saw use technology to great effect, but it feels like a distraction, something to make an OK show feel great. Here the script is excellent, the blocking and stagecraft are some of the most inventive and effective I've ever seen, the lead actor's performance is just mind-blowing, and then on top of that the show integrates technology on a level I've never seen, creating an experience that is both spectacular and feels like an organic extension of the drama. In short, this show is amazing, and it and Fun Home have absolutely been the highlights of our visit. If you're in NYC, see them both. (Pro tip: even with all the technical stuff going on, we got cheap nosebleed seats and had a perfectly good experience. In fact, we may have seen more than the people in the expensive orchestra seats did)


The thing is, theater, like any other kind of art, can't actually exist in a vacuum. The author of the book upon which the play is based has apparently said that it should not be seen as a window into autism, and indeed, neither the book nor the play explicitly says that the main character is autistic, but I think it's fair to say that the average audience member's take-away is that this is the case. It definitely was for me (worth noting: I had not read the book before seeing the play).

So I didn't think it would be right for me to write up a glowing review without first doing some research to see what people in the autism community had been saying about the show, and I have to admit to being somewhat disappointed by what I've read so far. For example, although the show, to its credit, paints the main character in a positive light and at least to me seemed to portray him as someone with great difficulties to overcome, but also much potential for overcoming them, it's been said that no attempt was made to cast an autistic actor in the main role, which rather undercuts the sentiment. One possible reason for this is that the technical aspects of the show are a barrage of light and sound, and I wonder whether this would have posed extra difficulty on an autistic person. This is perhaps a misunderstanding on my part of how autistic people interact with such things, but if it isn't, then the same might be said of the experience of autistic people in the audience, which would be a very sad irony.

But then, that kind of nails the problem right there: this show, which to reiterate is an amazing show worthy of all the praise it's gotten in every dramatic and technical level, isn't being made to give autistic people more of a voice, but to tell a compelling story to neurotypical people like (for the sake of argument) me, *about* someone who is, at the very least, strongly implied to be autistic. Not for or by, just about. Which wouldn't necessarily be a problem if the portrayal was realistic, but despite what I've no doubt constitutes an enormous amount of work on the part of the lead actor, resulting in a truly remarkable characterization, one cannot ignore criticisms by autistic people saying "hmm, no not quite right", nor laud the show without acknowledging them.

So I'll leave with this: it's a commentary by an autistic blogger on the book (not the play, though it sounds like they do share a voice) in which the author takes passages from the book and rewrites them in from a more intuitively correct. It's just one person's perspective, of course, but I found it fascinating, and I must give the show credit for being the thing that got me thinking enough to seek this piece out in the first place.



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