November 16, 2018
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‘It’s a hard part to do justice’: Play about boy on autism spectrum challenges cast in Winter Harbor show

Courtesy of Cynthia Thayer, Meetinghouse Theatre Lab
Courtesy of Cynthia Thayer, Meetinghouse Theatre Lab
The cast of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" examines the canine in question. The play, presented by the Meetinghouse Theatre Lab, will be performed this weekend at Hammond Hall.

A teenage boy stands on stage with a large stuffed dog. Sticking out of its side is a small pitchfork, similar to the ones gardeners use to turn their compost heaps.

Christopher knows the canine is named Wellington and that he belongs to a neighbor. A policeman questions the boy about the dog’s death.

“I did not kill the dog,” Christopher blankly tells the bobby.

Thus begins “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” to be performed this weekend at Hammond Hall in Winter Harbor. The play, set in England, tells the story of how solving the crime sends Christopher, who appears to be on the autism spectrum, on a great adventure.

The play is this spring’s full production mounted by the Meetinghouse Theatre Lab, associated with Schoodic Arts for All in Winter Harbor. It is being performed in front of the stage with the audience sitting on risers in front of and on two sides of the playing area. The set is made up of large wooden blocks that can be stacked and moved around. Projections on a screen that is hung above the stage help give the audience a sense of place.

Director Cynthia Thayer of Gouldsboro has wanted to do the show for several years but the rights weren’t available until this year.

“I thought it would be a great experimental piece for our ensemble that says something about humanity and the human condition,” she said Wednesday. “I’m hoping people will get a sense of what it’s like to have that kind of a mind where things are not ordered like they are for the rest of us. Plus, it’s a good story.”

The book, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,” by British mystery writer Mark Haddon, was published in 2003 but it would be another nine years before playwright Simon Stephens adapted it for the stage. It premiered in London in 2012 before moving to Broadway two years later and ran for more than 3½ years. In 2015 it won a Tony award for Best Play.

The Winter Harbor production is the first time the play’s been performed in northern Maine. Founded in 2003, the Meetinghouse Theatre Lab “is dedicated to creating an ensemble of performance artists who come together to excite the senses, push the limits, and transform the definition of create with the aim of growing as performers and enriching the humanity of all involved,” according to its website.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” is a two-act, ensemble piece with all the cast except for 15-year-old Bjorn Collins, who plays Christopher, taking on multiple roles. Playing Christopher, a math savant who has difficulty negotiating the world alone, has been a challenge for Collins of Steuben.

“It’s hard to keep track of all the lines,” he said after a rehearsal last week. “And, I’m pretty different than Christopher in a lot of ways. I’ve had a lot of trouble with the groaning and the screaming when people touch him or he gets frustrated. It’s a hard part to do justice.”

Thayer said she cast Bjorn even though he was out of state for 2½ weeks of rehearsal.

“I realized no one else could play this role,” the director said. “We Skyped him for rehearsals and it was a good experience for the cast member who could hear him but had to imagine him being there on the set.”

Most of the year, the Meetinghouse Theatre Lab performs once a month as a readers’ theater group. The group gathers at noon, and everyone brings food for a potluck supper.

The actors read through the play, chosen in the fall, during the afternoon. Sometimes actors switch parts in preparation for a 7 p.m. performance.

“Sometimes there are more people in the show than are in the audience,” Thayer said. “We do everything from new works to the classics.”

So far this year, the lab has presented “Radio Silent,” a new work by Bruce Pratt of Eddington; “Chemical Imbalance: A Jekyll and Hyde Play,” by Lauren Wilson; and “Something Wicked the Way Comes,” by Ray Bradbury.

Bryan Lescord, 35, of Brooklin has participated in the Theatre Lab and has worked with theater companies in Bangor, Blue Hill, Belfast, Brooksville and Ellsworth but always makes time for the Theatre Lab.

“From the get-go, the people in this group have been the people in this community,” he said. “In the lab, we let the show evolve organically with little direction. It’s a great group to collaborate with.”

Until she started working with the Theatre Lab ensemble five years ago, Cathy Johnson, 56, of Winter Harbor had never been in a play. The closest she’d come was as a teenager when she tried out for a show but was so paralyzed with fear she left the audition without uttering a word.

“I guess I’ve gotten over it,” Johnson, who’s been part of the lab for five years, said.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday at Hammond Hall in Winter Harbor. For information, call 963-7771 or visit schoodicartsforall.org.

 


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