Daniel Doheny avoids autism labels in Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

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      Daniel Doheny doesn’t seem to have any shortage of energy, which is a good thing, because he’ll be needing a bunch of it over the next few weeks. The local actor has landed the starring role in the Arts Club’s production of Simon Stephens’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Based on Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel of the same title, the play doesn’t give its lead actor much in the way of downtime.

      “I have to do a lot, more than I’ve had to do in any other play,” Doheny says, calling the Straight en route to a rehearsal. “I’m on-stage the entire time and I have a lot of lines, and it’s in a British accent, so there’s sort of a heightened amount of attention and focus that needs to go into the dialogue. It just goes from scene to scene to scene, and I’m spinning around and dancing and stuff. It’s crazy. But it’s pretty great.”

      Doheny is playing Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15-year-old math genius who takes it upon himself to investigate the mysterious death of a neighbour’s poodle while also uncovering a few secrets about his family.

      Although it is never stated explicitly in either the play or the novel, Christopher is presumably somewhere on the autism spectrum; he most likely has Asperger’s syndrome, a notion supported by his characteristic combination of high intelligence and reduced ability to read social cues or empathize with other people.

      “I actually did a lot of research about it,” Doheny says. “I read lots of books about autism, and some great books written by children with autism. There are some really great books out there written by autistic people. But the most helpful to me is to approach it and not try to think of Christopher as autistic, and not pre-judge anything going on in his brain and just play every scene based on the dialogue and the text.

      “I don’t see the need to really label what he has or even put it into a box,” the actor continues. “The writing is so good; as long as we do a good job of approaching it honestly and doing what the script already tells us to do, I think we can get our job done pretty well.”

      It doesn’t hurt to have a living, breathing resource in the form of Jake Anthony. The local performer and autism advocate has been brought in to advise the creative team—including director Ashlie Corcoran—as a “cultural creative consultant”.

      “He’s an actor himself, so he knows the process of doing a play,” says Doheny. “He’s basically there to answer any questions. He’s been great to have in the room. He’s been a wealth of knowledge, for sure.”

      As far as acting goes, Doheny has been building up a pretty impressive knowledge base himself. The 2012 Studio 58 graduate is a veteran of several Bard on the Beach productions and has landed starring parts in a number of movies, including the recent Netflix films Alex Strangelove and The Package.

      Not a bad CV for someone who, at 27, is still youthful enough to convincingly pull off a leading character who happens to be 15 years old.

      “I look very young, from what I’m told, so that helps, and also it does kind of help that the character has a lot of trouble expressing himself and dealing with people,” Doheny says. “So there’s a lot of stuff already written in the script: he looks down, he doesn’t make a lot of eye contact, he’s very shy. So I can just kind of inhabit those clues given to me in the script and then it’s good to go, it seems like I’m a 15-year-old because I’m shy—and I’m already an awkward person, so it’s not too hard for me to go into the body of someone who’s awkward. And I usually play people in high school anyway.”

      The Arts Club Theatre Company presents The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage from Thursday (September 6) to October 7.