Erin Shea Brady is a freelance writer, director and is the Artistic Director of No Stakes Theater Project, an organization dedicated to supporting the creative risks of emerging artists. At No Stakes, Erin has directed Sharr White's ANNAPURNA (staged reading) and Jim Cartwright's THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE (Theater Wit, 2015). She has worked on productions at Goodman, TimeLine, A Red Orchid, Jackalope, Northlight, American Blues and Remy Bumppo, and completed a casting internship at Steppenwolf under Erica Daniels. Up next, Erin is directing CABARET as part of No Stakes Theater Project's Actor Initiative, in April 2017. nostakestheaterproject.org
Pictured: Caroline Neff and Terry Bell. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
By Erin Shea Brady
A social worker I know recently said that when she works with youth who have been through trauma, she doesn’t ask them what it was that helped them through. She asks them who — and everyone has an answer. A teacher, a friend, a relative, even a stranger. Someone whose voice guided them through the messy middle of their experiences.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” is many wonderful things, but above all, it’s a love letter to the compassionate ones who know how to love us well, who challenge us to see that we are capable — the teachers of all kinds. Christopher, our young protagonist, played with great truth and heart by Terry Bell, is coping with great loss and change. He experiences the world differently than most and so his pathway through the confusion is uniquely challenging. In Jonathan Berry’s staging, Christopher’s teacher Siobhan (the excellent Caroline Neff) is a quiet and steadfast observer and her presence is transformative. Neff’s Siobhan meets Christopher where he is. While the outside world asks Christopher to conform to their expectations, Siobhan does not ask for what Christopher cannot provide, nor does she offer what she cannot provide. Instead, she offers kindness, perspective and a foothold for Christopher’s growth.
Berry’s production leans heavily into the metatheatricality of Christopher’s story. While some moments are more visually successful than others, the people in Christopher’s story create his world for us to see, and the imagery is powerful. The ensemble includes the always wonderful Meg Thalken, the very funny Christopher M. Walsh and Eunice Woods, and Rebecca Spence, whose performance is remarkably grounding.
By the end of the play, we know Christopher well. We know his favorite colors and his least favorite colors. We can fully anticipate the way he will react to the situations presented, which allows us to laugh with him and feel with him, present alongside him as he grows into this new version of himself — a version that challenges society’s proposed limitations. Christopher teaches us about bravery, about the striking beauty that comes with an honest and logical view of the world, about the truth that comes from standing out on your own.
This is an exceptional pick for Steppenwolf for Young Adults, with Artistic Direction from Hallie Gordon. The piece is relatable for young adults and introduces them to expert storytelling, while also expanding their worldview by featuring strong, positive representation of a neuroatypical peer who interacts with the world differently, who may otherwise be “othered.” Our assumptions are questioned, and we catch Christopher dreaming of a life that suits him, just like the rest of us.
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME runs through October 27th. For more information visit steppenwolf.org.