‘CURIOUS INCIDENT’ AT SCHS

Play addressing autism debuts next week
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Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Christine Boone, played by Caitlyn Katchenago, cannot understand why her father, played by Matthew Schwitzer, won’t allow her to look into who killed the neighbor’s dog in a scene from “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.” The play, written by Simon Stephens, is based on the novel written by Mark Haddon.

Shawano Community High School is presenting an unusual mystery for its fall play.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,” which debuts next week at the high school, features a protagonist rarely seen in a main role — a teen with Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. Based on the book by the same name written by Mark Haddon, “Curious Incident” follows Christopher Boone, a mathematical genius who has difficulty interacting with those around him.

“I was reading a lot of different scripts, and as is usually the case, this was the last one I read, which meant this was the one I wanted to do,” said Alex Konen, director. “I was thinking of a few other scripts initially, but this one stood out for me. It seems to me to be a tale of bravery on the part of the main character who is autistic and really struggles interacting with people.”

The difficult interactions are noticeable. From almost getting thrown into jail for hitting a police officer who was called in to investigate the dog’s death, to having difficulties getting around a train station in London, the protagonist struggles in a world where being so different is not embraced, according to Konen.

Konen had to tweak the script slightly when few boys auditioned for the show, and he had to turn Christopher into Christina. Taking on the role is Caitlyn Katchenago, a freshman participating in her first non-musical play.

“I was very careful that it wasn’t going to alter the storyline in any way,” Konen said. “There’s not going to be a love interest that has to be flipped later. I saw no major issue — it’s still the same story.”

Christina lives with her father, and when she learns that he lied about the circumstances of her mother’s death, the teen flees to a train station, where she experiences sensory overload, a not-so-unusual occurrence for those on the autism spectrum.

“She decides she can’t live at home because her father did something, and she can’t trust him because of that one thing he did,” Konen said.

Peppered throughout the show are flashbacks that include Christina’s mother when she was alive. Konen said his actors had some initial difficulty with the jarring shifts in the timeline, but now they embrace the shifts.

To prepare for playing someone with Asperger’s, Katchenago has been reading Haddon’s original novel, which was published in 2003.

“It’s very challenging because she’s autistic, and it’s hard to do some of the things that autistic people do,” Katchenago said. “I also like it, because I get to understand how she feels and how autistic people live their life.”

Konen said Katchenago’s research — along with some online research he has done — will help when “Curious Incident” debuts, as he wants to present the show in a way that’s sensitive to those who live with Asperger’s and other forms of autism.

“I looked up quite a few different videos they could watch. There are a lot of different families who post things on YouTube,” Konen said. “There are also doctors who post things out there that could be delved into for research.”

Konen noted that fans of the book will see that much of the story is intact with the play.

“I knew that it was based on a book, but I didn’t realize how closely it was until I read through the script and started looking into things a little more deeply,” Konen said. “I was pleased with that. I always like it when things match up that way.”