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"A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" returns to Players Circle Theater after a two-year hiatus due to COVID

A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time opens at Players Circle Theatre on February 16. Smart and sophisticated, it’s the coming-of-age saga of a 15-year-old British lad who struggles with Asperger’s Syndrome.

A savant on the autism spectrum, Christopher Boone uses math to organize and categorize a world of confusing and frightening emotions. Not just his own emotions. Christopher deeply internalizes the feelings of everyone he encounters. Not surprisingly, Christopher’s overprotective father, Ed, curtails his son’s contact with the outside world. But when Christopher falls under suspicion for killing his neighbor’s dog, he sets out in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes to solve the crime. In the course of discovering the identity of the true murderer, Christopher uncovers family secrets so startling that they compel him to bravely engage with the world around him.

Anyone who has ever been thrust into a social situation they were ill equipped to handle will connect with Christopher’s plight. But there’s so much more going on in this show that will resonate with viewers.

Leeds-born Cape Coral actor Harvey Evans, who plays Christopher, observes, “It’s about love, about family, about struggles, financial struggles. Anything you can think of that might be hard for someone is basically all packed into this play.”

Just like his character, Evans has come of age playing this role. Two years ago, he learned the part and completed the arduous rehearsal process only to have the show cancelled as theaters around the globe shuttered their doors due to COVID. He played the part before an audience last year as a high school senior, but now he returns to Players Circle Theatre wiser and vastly more experienced.

“I have learned way more. I have experienced way more. And there’s so much that’s different from the first time, and I think that’s what really brought me back,” he said.

Evans attributes his growth in the role to more than just familiarity with the character and his story.

“We have a much deeper understanding of the show this time around because we had a whole extra week to put more time into book work, and I think that changed everything for everyone,” he said.

Joanna Harmon plays Christopher’s teacher, Siobhan. She echoes Evans’ sentiment.

“Bob [Cacioppo] gets to take a second pass at it. Harvey gets to take a second pass at it. And it will inevitably become deeper just any time that you have the luxury, and it is a luxury, that we get to do it again,” she said.

Harmon was introduced to the world of theater by Bob Cacioppo and his wife, Carrie Lund, when she was just a kid. She eventually moved away, opened theaters of her own, and continued to work on her craft not only as an actor, but as a producer. Joining Players Circle for Curious Incident in the company’s inaugural season two years ago marked her own theatrical coming of age in a sense. With her reprisal of the role this year, she finally gets to show Bob, Carrie, and everyone else just how much she has become a genuine theatrical force.

In the play, Siobhan is not just Christopher’s teacher. She is his surrogate. She reads from his journal; helps him process his feelings; and enables him to clarify his reactions to all that he sees and hears.

And as he sets out on his journey, he sees and hears a lot. Too much, in fact. Overstimulation is anathema for anyone on the Autism spectrum. But Cacioppo and company do not permit the audience to sit calmly back and watch how Christopher handles it all. Instead, they put the audience inside Christopher’s head. Cacioppo and his team achieve this through a combination of lighting cues – there are more than 350 over the course of the show – and a traffic jam of activity which snakes across a stage that’s been divided into Tetris-evoking squares and blocks that prevent the cast from crashing into one another.

Harmon explains the challenge from the actor’s point of view.

“You’re thrown lots of different things, and there’s all this stuff going on and there’s all these people moving every which where … and you have to come in right at the right time because not just the next scene is dependent on you, but there’s so many moving parts that are dependent on you,” she said.

When Curious Incident premiered in London in 2013, it won 7 Olivier Awards (the equivalent of the Tony Award), more than any play in Olivier history. Two years later, it landed on Broadway and promptly won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Play. The Huffington Post called Curious Incident “exhilarating, dynamic theatre which triumphantly expands the boundaries of theatricality.”

The Players Circle production builds on that legacy by providing a more cohesive connection between the storyline and the character arc that Christopher traverses. And in this iteration, Siobhan is much more integrated into the way in which Christopher’s story is told.

But the storytelling here is also enhanced by Cacioppo’s decision to stage the play in the round, which brings the audience into closer contact with the action unfolding across the stage.

The story is also advanced by a breathtaking ensemble. Among a cast that consists of some of this area’s most accomplished and popular actors are John McKerrow and Angela Watson. They starkly, yet sensitively, play the parents of a child with a serious learning disability. As often happens, they grow apart over time. While you may not admire the choices they subsequently make, McKerrow and Watson allow you to understand the decisions they make. Just as fascinating is how their son comes to terms with all that they do.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs from February 16th through March 6th at Players Circle Theater at the Shell Factory in North Fort Myers. Audiences are limited to 150 people, so don’t wait too long to reserve your seats.

To read more stories about the arts in Southwest Florida visit Tom Hall's website: SWFL Art in the News.