It was Juilliard classmate Alex Sharp who first planted the seed that actor Adam Langdon should go for the challenging role of Christopher in the celebrated British play “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”
Sharp, a British actor who earned a Tony Award for the role on Broadway, graduated one year ahead of Langdon, and he could just see his college buddy in the part.
“Sharp told me that this would be a part I would play one day and he was right, which is really lucky for me,” Langdon said of Sharp, who preceded him in the role of the 15-year-old math whiz who is ill-equipped to interpret everyday life.
Langdon, who always thought of himself as a comedic actor, watched Sharp in the role of Christopher on Broadway and thought: “Oh my God, this part is insane. It’s something I could never do.”
“The piece is so incredibly physical and I didn’t see myself being able to do the part from a physical standpoint,” said the Brooklyn native, who said he was used to not working out and eating whatever he wanted.
A year and a half later, Langdon, now 24, booked the part in the show’s national tour.
You wouldn’t imagine that playing a boy hero who sets out to solve the mystery of who killed his neighbor’s dog would require gymnastic feats of an actor. But “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” the 2012 play based on the 2003 best-selling novel by Mark Haddon, does just that.
In the show, Langdon does a backflip off a wall, walks across the entire back of the wall and is carried up in the air by other company members. To prepare for this physicality, the theater production company Frantic Assembly, which worked with the tour, helped him build up these skills little by little.
Daily rehearsals consisted of an 80-minute workout with a lot of circuit and core training, another two hours of physical work on the show, and then scene work. Christopher’s movement ranges from the pedestrian to executing lifts, supported by other cast members.
“To create where his (Christopher’s) mind is at, in certain places, they want to make it larger than life,” said Langdon, speaking by phone Wednesday from the tour in Boston.
When Christopher, who is believed to be on the autism spectrum, is accused of killing the dog, he sets out on an adventure to find the true culprit. In the show, the young hero is never given a specific diagnosis. He hates to be touched, is bewildered by small talk and has a rigidly ritualized world.
Through original director Marianne Elliott’s creative staging, the audience is forced to experience the sensory overload that the protagonist endures. That includes what promises to be a wild train scene where an overstimulated Christopher gets overwhelmed.
“We really try to put the audience in a place where they’re seeing the play from Christopher’s mind,” said Langdon, who believes this uniquely staged work is something everyone should see.
“I couldn’t be luckier to be playing it (the Christopher part). It’s the role of a generation,” he said.
Christopher tries to order the bewildering world around him through his mind. What looks like a simple black box on stage has walls that are lined with a sort of graph paper. The deceptively simple-looking show is actually high-tech: Hundreds of LED lights come on when Christopher is overstimulated, four in each square of the “graph paper.”
The show, winner of five 2015 Tony Awards, is presented as a play within a play, in which Christopher’s teacher has encouraged him to tell the story of his adventure by writing a play. She serves as a sort of narrator and Christopher controls the other characters in his head.
“We all kind of refer to the other characters or the other actors as Christopher’s brain microbes,” Langdon said.