Friday, February 14, 2014

Curious Incidents

Last fall while we were in London, my study-abroad students went to a play every week and we had the opportunity to take N. to as many of these productions as seemed age-appropriate.  We made a couple of mistakes in judging age-appropriateness, however.  I've already written about taking N. (at his request) to Othello, which was a very painful experience for him.  Although at first he regretted seeing it, I don't think he still does.  He also came with us and the students to War Horse.  Before we went to the theater, I didn't know anything about this play other than its use of full-size puppets to portray the horses.  The marketing we saw around London made it seem like a children's play, and I vaguely knew it was based on a children's novel.  I wished I had done my homework, however, because N. was so upset by the war scenes that he begged to (and did) go home at the interval.  He was much more disturbed by this play than Othello, perhaps because the production is sensorially overwhelming and manipulatively sentimental.

Remembering traumatic viewings of scary or upsetting movies in my own childhood, I've always been vigilant about what N. watches on screen.  I don't think children should be protected from all upsetting images or artworks forever, but I do think there is plenty of time in later childhood for the complex reactions such works elicit.  Since this is my view, I felt especially bad that I'd unwittingly brought him to a play that was both maudlin and violent.  Perhaps my cultural snobbery was to blame; I wasn't as suspicious of the theater as I am of movies.  I didn't think about the fact that theater can be as sensorially powerful (or even more so) as film.  The instructor of my students' theater class warned me to be careful in choosing what I brought N. to because as a passionate lover of theater, she didn't want a disturbing experience to make him reject theater.  Fortunately, we saw so many other wonderful plays with N. that War Horse remained anomalous and did not dampen his enthusiasm for theater.

We learned when we first arrived in London that we'd be seeing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, a West End play based on the bestselling novel.  N.'s curiosity was piqued by the cover of the book as Tim was reading it in September and he wanted to read it himself.  I'd read it years ago and thought it might be a bit troubling for a 9-year-old, but N. begged so insistently that I relented.  He had read about half (and apparently peeked ahead as well, so he knew the major plot revelations) before we went to the play.  Despite the dog's death that opens the play, the complexities of Christopher's parents' relationship, the references to sex, the sensory terror of Christopher's journey to London, N. absolutely loved the play.  The production was surprisingly successful at dramatizing what I thought was the most important achievement of the book: the representation of a person's interior life so different from my own.  Sound and light effectively created the sensory experience of the autistic protagonist that is so movingly narrated in the book.  Afterwards, we had a lot of fun talking about the ways the book and the play told Christopher's story.  N. eventually finished the book, and was further inspired to start (but not yet finish!The Hound of the Baskervilles, which inspires Christopher's quest for truth in Curious Incident.

No comments: