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Arts & Culture

The second weekend of Home Made Theater’s inspirational look at autism has been postponed

A scene from “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night”
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Photo courtesy of Home Made Theater
A scene from “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night”

The Home Made Theater production of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night” time which opened in Saratoga Springs last weekend and was to continue this Weekend was postponed. COVID was detected in the cast and to keep the rest of the cast, crew and audiences safe, the final productions will be offered at Saratoga Arts on Friday May 20 and Sunday May 22.

It’s been a tedious and remarkable journey. The cast and crew of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time,” might all have worked on plays that were more perfectly produced. But I doubt that any will be prouder than to claim they worked on this production.

The backstory of the production adds to the tale that centers on determination. Home Made originally scheduled “Curious Incident…” to be produced in May 2020, COVID delayed the production for two years. Yet the original cast stayed with the show and are performing in what obviously is uncertain times.

It’s admirable that these dedicated theater artists fought so many obstacles to mount this production. The delay also caused technical problems. The show is a tech-dependent work and was originally to be played at the fully-equipped Little Theatre on the grounds of SPAC. The facility is closed because of COVID. The show is now offered at the Dee Sarno Theatre in Saratoga Arts on Broadway. It is neither tech nor parking friendly.

It’s probably an appropriate time to mention that no performer is paid. They are all talented nonprofessional actors who do for the love of performing.

With all these daunting obstacles it would be unreasonable to expect a perfect production. However, despite the challenges the company accomplished what good theater should do. That is, tell a story capturing the emotions of the material and forcing the audience to think about it long after the performance. In other words, Home Made Theater serves the material with honor.

And the material is worth honoring. “Curious Incident…” tells the tale of Christopher, an autistic 15-year old who sets out to vindicate himself by discovering who killed a dog found in the street of his neighborhood.

Christopher is brilliant in math, but less so in social situations. He fears strangers, crowds and cannot be physically touched by anyone. Yet he embarks on a journey that solves the crime. In so doing he finds family, makes new friends, and finds trust in himself.

The play is not only inspirational because of what Christopher learns. Without preaching or pandering, having a disabled youth as the hero offers the audience great insight into the mind of an autistic person. What artist wouldn’t be proud of this accomplishment?

Foreshadowing the COVID problem, at the Saturday matinee, two members of the very important ensemble of actors could not perform. Jonathan Hefter took the stage with only an hour’s notice and director Erin Nicole Harrington played the other role.

Having a couple of performers reading from the script for the beginning of the first act was a minor inconvenience but it once again showed the courage and skills of standby actors who shine when needed.

Director Harrington made many fresh, imaginative and creative decisions to compensate for the lack of the technology that helps the audience understand the working of Christopher’s mind.

A moment where Laurie Larson playing the role of an ATM is delightful and indicative of the good work by the six person ensemble, who also play important supporting roles.

However, there were several instances where less might have been more. One example is creating a crowded train station where the half dozen actors crossed the stage at least four times attempting to create a different personality with each crossing. It was like watching mimes on steroids and more distracting than it was mood setting.

But these problems are minor. You should leave the theater in awe by the acting of Christopher Buettner, a 17-year old junior at Schuylerville High School. He gives an energetic and sensitive performance of a youth who is confident in his own beliefs but awkward with his emotions. Buettner is both dynamic and empathetic in the role. He has a bright future

The other leads also do well. Every character was clearly defined and the ambiguities of guilt and affection that each character dealt with was very effective. There was never a question as to what a person on stage was dealing with internally.

Eric Rudy found the sensitivity beneath the brash father, Ed. Jennie Sinnott as Siobhan was a lovely confidant to Christopher and channeled the young man’s thoughts with tenderness and insight as she read from his journals. Elisa Verb as Judy, made clear her passionate affection and her willingness to sacrifice for her son.

However, technique sometimes got in the way. Because the first act is more narrative-based with little interpersonal dialogue, there was a tendency for a couple of actors to over emote to make a point. Also, eliminating half the dramatic pauses could reduce the running time of 2 1/2 hours. Finally, the use of British accents made certain performers difficult to understand.

But there are many positives within the production. Technically Kevin Miller with the set, Kyle Van Sandt on lights and the sound design of Tom Moeller, did the impossible by making an extremely difficult play fit into an awkward space.

The Home Made Theater production of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time” is an inspirational telling of a marvelous piece of literature. Heck, it’s inspirational that this determined group of theater artist persevered to tell this remarkable tale.

It continues Friday May 20 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday May 22 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. The 7:30 performance is sensory friendly as technical elements will be modified.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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