Trustus to stage first SC production of Tony-winning play

Beck Chandler (right) rehearsing his role of Christopher with other cast members. Images courtesy of Trustus Theater.

The book sold more than 2 million copies and won numerous awards. The stage adaptation added many more trophies, including the 2015 Tony Award for Best Play. Now, Trustus Theatre will produce South Carolina’s first performance of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”

Trustus Artistic Director Chad Henderson saw the show in New York and knew he wanted to bring it to Columbia. When the licensing rights became available and Scenic and Media Designer Baxter Engle agreed to join the production, Henderson knew the time was right.

“This is one of my favorite shows I’ve ever seen,” said Henderson, who is directing the Trustus production. “It really felt like an adventure on stage.”

The play, written by Simon Stephens based on the novel by Mark Haddon, is a mystery story told from the perspective of 15-year-old Christopher Boone, a person with autism. Christopher finds the body of a neighbor’s dog and decides to investigate, despite being regarded by some as a suspect.

Beck Chandler, a University of South Carolina student who is also an autistic person, will make his Trustus debut as Christopher. Chandler attended an open audition for this season’s Trustus company and impressed Henderson immediately.

“Autism can be very difficult to understand, and this is even true for people with it,” Chandler said. “While other actors’ imitations are very sincere, I believe it takes experience to be able to walk around inside of Christopher’s head. I plan on bringing depth to the character and drawing on my experiences to give a genuine and relatable performance.”

Chandler, who has been acting since fifth grade and is a music and computer science major at UofSC, will be playing the lead for the first time aside from school plays, and says his fellow cast members have been a big help as he prepares.

“Everybody is really top notch,” he said, adding that the nature of the play has many of the cast on stage more often than not. “No one ever really leaves. No one gets to go backstage and have a coffee break. It’s also a lot of physical acting.”

Also making his Trustus debut is veteran actor Scott Pattison of Charleston’s PURE Theatre, a native of England who plays Christopher’s father. Henderson worked with Pattison in Charleston and said “Something about Scott just stood out in my head,” leading him to work to bring Pattison to Columbia.

“We have a lot of great company members,” Henderson said of the 10-person cast as a whole. “I have a lot of faith in our community.”

Columbia’s creative community also supplies the music for the show, which will feature an original score by Tom Beard and previously unreleased pieces from Tyler Matthews.
“I knew I wanted an original sound,” Henderson said. “Tom has created a lot of pieces specifically tailored for this show.”

The play, while certainly a murder mystery (the title comes from a Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), is also much more. Haddon said his novel is “about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way.” Chandler has found in rehearsals that the author’s statement is also true of the play.

“It really is a show about difference. It’s an exercise in empathy, really,” Chander said. “If you want to see something different from anything you’ve seen on stage or otherwise, this is it.”

Henderson agreed, saying the play succeeds in the difficult task of bringing a novel narrated entirely by one person to the stage.

“[Playwright Simon] Stephens doesn’t just do a linear progression. He does a really good job of capturing the format of the book and a lot of the nuance of Christopher,” Henderson said. “We’re left with a really uplifting and powerful message: that we can do anything if we put our minds to it. We hope the audience will just feel that joy by the end of the night.”

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” opens Friday at Trustus and will run through Feb. 9. Showtimes and ticket information are available at Trustus.org.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Columbia, Richland County

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