There isn’t one easy thing about staging the play, “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”
It has a conventional plot, a dysfunctional family blown apart by betrayals and secrets, with a troubled child as the victim of the fallout.
But, the child in this case is Christopher, a 15-year-old with Asperger's syndrome and the story is told from his different perspective.
And the story is typically told on a sophisticated stage that is a cube with one side open to the audience. The stage can be disorienting, swirling with flashing lights and images, with hidden doors from which characters and props appear and disappear. It’s meant to offer a glimpse inside the young narrator’s troubled but intelligent mind.
Billings Studio Theatre is staging the play beginning April 12, and to make it work the amateur group has had to make some concessions.
Constructing the traditional stage would cost more than the company’s annual budget, said BST’s Executive Director A.J. Kalanick.
And, besides, the play, like all plays, doesn’t really need it, he said.
This is story-telling after all.
“It’s like telling a story like ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ ” he said. “You can enrapture the mind telling it with just a chair and your voice.”
BST has created an innovative stage, however, for the production. Multiple square panels hang at various levels from the sides of the stage onto which projected images will convey the confusion in young Christopher’s anxious mind.
When Byrl Skovgaard agreed to direct “Curious Incident” for BST, he recalled seeing the original version with its complex stage.
“I thought, oh my god, what have I done?” he recalled. “Then I thought, we can do this, not with all the bells and whistles, but we can do it in a way that’s true to the story.”
The difficult play and its difficult subject of mental disorders has some uplifting moments and can be transformative for viewers.
“If you’ve ever felt like a misfit, then you’re Christopher,” said Skovgaard. “It can answer questions like, ‘Where do I fit in if I'm different?' ”
But, it’s hardly the feel-good hit that the recently-staged musical “Mamma Mia” was for BST. The company’s planned run of 10 shows sold out before the musical even opened. They added four more shows, which also quickly sold out.
“That’s what people want to see. If people are going to attend something like that, why not do it?” said Kalanick.
Those shows pay the bills, he said, allowing BST to fulfill its artistic mandate to regularly challenge viewers with riskier productions like “Curious Incident."
The play is based on the wildly popular novel by Mark Haddon.
Noah Woodring plays Christopher, a young character a BST press release describes as exceptionally intelligent but ill-equipped to interpret everyday life. He has never ventured alone beyond the end of his road, he detests being touched and distrusts strangers.
When he falls under suspicion for killing his neighbor’s dog, he carefully records each fact of the crime and sets out to identify the true culprit, which leads to a shattering discovery and a journey that will change his life, BST says.
The plays also features Cayla Braun, Casey Visser, Stephanie Byars, Rita Heizer, Shannon Daniels, Robert Bertrand, Ashley Milsop, Aaron Going and Chere’ Anderson.
BST, now in its 67th season, has a long history of challenging audiences. It’s staging of “Of Mice and Men” 23 years ago barely broke even, said Kalanick, but people still talk about how powerful it was.
He hopes 23 years from now, people will still be talking about “Curious Incident,” too.