SCSU, a major play addresses the autism spectrum



ST. CLOUD – Inside the Performing Arts Center at St. Cloud State University, a “curious incident” takes place.

In “The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night”, a play based on the novel by Mark Haddon, 15-year-old Christopher Boone is wrongly accused of the death of a neighbor’s dog.

During his quest to uncover the perpetrator of the crime next door, Christopher uncovers secrets that touch even closer to home.

Complicating matters is Christopher’s behavioral difficulties, which include sensitivities to light, sound, and physical contact.

Christopher is on the autism spectrum. It is a condition that shapes the world of the character and the world of the play, although it does not define either.

“It’s more of a universal story than a story of a child on the spectrum,” said Jeffrey Bleam, joint production director between the drama department at St. Cloud State University and GREAT Theater. “We are all able to find a relationship with Christopher.”

The cast members perform a scene from an opening act of "The curious incident of the dog during the night" Thursday February 14 at St. Cloud State University.

Center stage in the stimulating role of Christopher is Jordan Flaherty, a 21-year-old freshman studying film at St. Cloud State.

For Flaherty, some aspects of Christopher’s experiences resonate on a personal level.

He was diagnosed with “a very mild form” of Asperger’s syndrome as a child – a developmental disorder that causes Flaherty, like Christopher, to have difficulty with certain stimuli.

For this reason, Flaherty said, “I wanted to portray Christopher in a more educational and less entertaining way or in a way that might be perceived as offensive.”

“I wanted to capitalize on who he is and make him stand out,” he said.

Jordan Flaherty talks about his role as Christopher Boone with director Jeffrey Bleam on Thursday, February 14, ahead of a performance of "The curious incident of the dog during the night" at St. Cloud State University.

Flaherty also identified with Christopher’s relationship with his family. In the play, Christopher struggles to trust his father, Ed, and solo ventures into new environments in search of his mother, Judy.

“I have a similar story, when it comes to parents who aren’t always around,” Flaherty said. “I think about the distance between Christopher and his mother, and I also think about the issues with me and my family, how it affected me and how I would walk far and miles just to see them.”

While Flaherty is older than the character he’s playing (“I really look like I’m 15!” He laughed) it relates to how Christopher strives to determine your own path.

“I turned 15 too,” he said. “We are faced with these choices of what we think is best for ourselves, and 15 is not always the best age to make decisions like that. But I think it’s a good story that he’s going on this adventure, and I think it’s necessary for him to grow as a person. ”

Bleam worked closely with Flaherty to develop Christoper’s complex mental and emotional journey, beat by beat.

Director Jeffrey Bleam on the production of "The curious incident of the dog during the night" during an interview at St. Cloud State University.

“We’ve talked about it a lot,” Bleam said. “We talked about how the characters feel, the dynamic, the relationships… for me, it was really about following the instincts of the actors, because everyone on the show has great instincts.”

Flaherty said his instincts often came from a direct understanding of how overwhelming a new environment or a bright and noisy new experience can be.

“There is a point where there are suitcases circling around me, the sound of the wheels, and they come so close – the reaction you see is very honest,” he said. “Some lights, some sounds are a bit too much for me. I can’t even imagine what they look like to Christopher.”

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Bleam, who has acted as a visual designer for the production as well as a director, said “what (it’s) like to Christopher” was a priority for him as the play approached.

The original 2012 West End and 2014 Broadway productions used light and video projections as well as highly stylized utilitarian movements of the actors on stage to fully immerse audiences in Christopher’s full-volume world.

The production won the Tony Awards that year for Best Lighting Design and Best Stage Design, and was nominated for Best Choreography.

The cast members perform a scene from "The curious incident of the dog during the night" Thursday February 14 at St. Cloud State University.

Although Bleam, who saw the Broadway production, was impressed with the visual design and technology, he noticed a few things that pestered him.

“One of my problems … was that there was so much projection and sound design. It was sensory overload, so the very people Christopher represents would have a hard time seeing the production,” Bleam said. .

The highly stylized movement that earned the piece a rare nomination for Best Choreography – an award typically populated only by musicals – was also about Bleam.

“I saw the production with my husband, who is a choreographer, and although it didn’t occur to me, it really bothered him,” he said.

“Christopher has such a loathing to be touched, and it was weird to suspend that disbelief, to suddenly see the cast lift him up and move him around in space as each time he’s hit in the room, he screams. ”

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So when it came time to craft his interpretation of the award-winning piece, Bleam struck a balance between stripped down and amplified.

“Ours is not a production sensitive to the senses, but it is not a sensory aggression,” he explained. “There are loud noises, there are moving images, but I think it’s easy to look away. They’re not that overwhelming.”

And, he says, no one touches Christopher.

“Well people touch him and he screams,” Bleam said. “But we didn’t do that kind of stylized movement.”

The cast members perform a scene from "The curious incident of the dog during the night" Thursday February 14 at St. Cloud State University.

Every element of the show has been tweaked to make Christopher’s story and experiences accessible to audiences – an audience that Bleam hopes will find he has more in common with the young mathematician turned amateur sleuth than he does. think.

“It comes down to why the novelist and the Adapter never specified a diagnosis,” Bleam said. “It’s a universal condition. Everyone has reactions to certain stimuli in their life. Everyone has a hard time dealing with certain situations – it’s not just people with autism.”

Follow Alyssa Zaczek on Twitter: @sctimesalyssa, email her at [email protected] or call her at (320) 255-8761.

If you are going to …

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night” will be played at 19:30 February 22-23 and 2 p.m. February 24 at the Performing Arts Center on the St. Cloud State University campus, 620 Sixth St. S.

Tickets cost $ 15 (free with SCSU ID) and include parking. Tickets are available by visiting

Parking will be available in the parking garage on Fourth Avenue and Sixth Street South. Customers will receive an automated ticket at the entrance to the ramp, and then, during the show, a voucher card will allow them to exit the ramp for free after the show.

Due to the language, this show is recommended for adult audiences only.


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