With a Tony-winning play bound for DC, Simon Stephens tells us why he’s not kicking back and counting his trophies.
“My impulse was just to tell the story—to define Christopher, not by his condition, not by his neurology, but by the things that he did,” says Simon Stephens of the autistic protagonist (shown) of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. “I was interested in Christopher the person, not Christopher the condition.”
After receiving countless offers to adapt his bestselling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time for the stage, Mark Haddon asked Simon Stephens to do it instead. “I was very, very flattered and fascinated,” says the 45-year-old playwright. “I loved the book before I met Mark. I love the humanity of it and the wisdom and the wit. Also, I wanted to write something that my kids could come and see. My plays are normally so dark!” It wasn’t an easy task.
The novel’s hero, Christopher Boone, is a 15-year-old math prodigy with autism who tries to solve the mystery of who killed his neighbor’s dog. His dispassionate inner monologue—keenly observant, strangely tender, and very funny—is one of the book’s triumphs, and translating it to the stage was the creative team’s central challenge. Marianne Elliott’s production manages the feat with dazzling projections, intricate choreography, and of course, Stephens’s expert book.
The show ended up winning five Tony awards. Curious Incident is coming to the Kennedy Center as part of its victory tour, but the playwright hasn’t let the success get to him. He sees theater as a perfectly imperfect art form—something very true to life. “I kind of think all theater is failure. Just like all life is failure, really. Nobody at the end of life looks back on it and goes, ‘Yep, pretty much nailed that,’” laughs Stephens. “I think as an artist if you feel too profound a sense of success then you should probably just stop.” October 5–23, 2700 F St. NW, 202-467-4600