Erin Shea Brady is a contributing writer and critic at PerformInk and Newcity Stage. Directing credits include: Everybody (Brown Paper Box Co.) and Cabaret, Annapurna (staged reading) and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (No Stakes Theater Project). Erin has assistant directed and dramaturged productions at the Goodman, Jackalope, TimeLine, A Red Orchid, Northlight, and Remy Bumppo. Erin is a graduate of the directing program at Columbia College Chicago, the internship program at Steppenwolf, Jackalope's inaugural Playwright's Lab, and participated in the Goodman's Criticism in a Changing America bootcamp. Erin is a company member with Brown Paper Box Co. and is currently pursuing her MSW at Loyola.
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.