One puppy went home with the actress playing the teacher. Another is now living with the actor portraying the father. The stage manager took one, as did a hairdresser, and the parents of a publicist.
During the 24-month Broadway run of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” 21 puppies — golden retrievers and others that look goldenish — have cycled through the show’s cast, appearing in a brief but reliably crowd-pleasing scene toward the end of the show. And as each one ages out of the role — as soon as the dogs grow too big to fit in a gift box, they are replaced — each has been adopted by a performer, a crew member or someone else connected to the theater industry.
“I hadn’t really discussed it with my husband, and we have a 6-year-old and an ancient Chihuahua, so it wasn’t the best time,” said Francesca Faridany, or Frankie, the actress who for the first year of the show’s run played the teacher, Siobhan, and developed a fondness for Bubba, who was Puppy No. 8. “But I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I want to take him.’” Bubba, a mixed-breed dog who arrived at the show from a shelter and stayed in the cast for about eight weeks because he remained small, now lives with Faridany and her family.
This unusual puppy pipeline — generally from a breeder to the stage, and from the stage to a home — is nearing an end: The producers of “Curious Incident” have announced that they are closing the Broadway production on Sept. 4. But it has created an unusual group of dog-owning theater lovers who can identify their pets by number (reflecting when they appeared in the show), get together for playdates, exchange dog-sitting and have a Facebook group for photos; some even attended games played by the Curious Dogs, the show’s Broadway Show League softball team.
A few of the dogs had abbreviated theatrical careers (two exhibited stage fright and were replaced), while others had incidents (one vomited onstage). Bubba left after developing cherry eye, but then returned to reprise his role as an understudy. (On nights when Bubba performed but Faridany did not, the show sent a car to shuttle him to the theater.)
At least two of the dogs have parlayed childhood success onstage into commercial work, while Puppy No. 12, Babs, seems to have an actor’s self-regard. “One quirky thing she does is stare at herself — in any mirror, water, glass windows,” said Sandy Rapp, the mother of a “Curious” publicist, who adopted that dog. “We attribute this to her having been a star.”
The play, based on the best-selling 2003 novel by British writer Mark Haddon, chronicles the quest by Christopher, a teenager with symptoms often associated with children on the autism spectrum, to solve a dog’s murder. That dog, who appears onstage, dead, in the opening scene, is depicted by a prop that the live dogs are barred from seeing; the live puppy arrives late in the show.
“Animals take you the way you are and ask for so little in return,” said Allison Fedigan, whose husband is a production electrician on Broadway; the couple have a son on the autism spectrum, and adopted Puppy No. 10, Forrest, after hearing about the dogs from an electrician who worked on “Curious Incident.” “Fostering those relationships seems to be much easier for people on the spectrum.”
The show, which began performances at Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theater in September 2014, won the Tony Award for best new play last year; it has been playing in London since 2012, and touring productions begin next month in the United States and in January in Britain.
The puppy is described in the script as being 2 months old; the actual animals are brought in at eight weeks and stay until they are 12 or 13 weeks old, depending on how fast they grow. The show’s animal trainer, Lydia DesRoche, sought rescue puppies, but finding dogs with the right look, personality and availability that way proved difficult, so she has often turned to carefully chosen breeders, looking for dogs who seemed neither too shy nor too boisterous, and who wouldn’t startle at applause or other loud show noises. The dogs spend much of each show in a fifth-floor dressing room, which they share with a rat who also appears in the show; DesRoche or a wrangler walks them into the wings for their second-act scene; they are presented to Christopher by his father, and run around the stage, climb over the actor, or both, depending on their mood.
Alex Sharp, who originated the role of Christopher (and won a Tony for his performance), decided while rehearsing for the Broadway opening that a puppy might respond to him better onstage if it knew him a bit, so he took the first puppy home. Sharp was not a dog person — his family moved constantly, and two rabbits were the extent of his childhood pet experience — so taking care of a puppy was a bit of a shock.
“Lydia gave me a cage and puppy pads and food, and I was like, ‘It’s fine,’” he said. “But it was running around throwing up on things, pooping, peeing, barking all night, running in circles hysterically excited, and sleeping for three hours.”
Sharp worked with 13 puppies (“that was 13 heartbreaking moments when they would leave”) and would take each home for a night or two when they first arrived at the show, and then later if their performances seemed to slacken. “I would make a little bed next to mine and sleep with my hand on the puppy, and if my hand went off it would start crying,” he said. “It was quite a lot, but it made a big difference to the performance onstage.”
One puppy threw up during a scene — the actor playing Christopher’s father used a sweatshirt to clean it up — and another nipped Sharp’s face, forcing him to play the rest of the scene with his hoodie pressed against his chin to stop the bleeding. (Mary Birnbaum, a director who knew Faridany’s husband, wound up adopting the biter, Puppy No. 6, who is a spaniel-poodle mix. “He was very poorly behaved in the show,” she said, “and one night he vomited onstage.” But now, “He is wonderfully behaved and retains a bit of the actor’s extroversion.”)
But mostly, Sharp said, the dogs were delightful — especially for audiences, and especially if the dog would yap or lick the actor’s face. (“The secret was I’d been sweating for hours, and they just liked the taste of the salt.”) And the impact was clear.
“When the yellow lab tumbled out at the end of the show we both squealed and fell in love — along with everyone else in the audience, I’m sure,” said Hillary Reeves, who watched the show with her boyfriend. That couple adopted the opening-night puppy (No. 3, Jelly, a Labrador retriever) after hearing about the dog from a fellow alumna of Camp Broadway.
DesRoche said there had generally been a line of people in the theater world eager to adopt. “It’s not difficult to find a home for an adorable blond puppy,” she said. “We’re not talking about adult pit bulls.”
Chris Kurtz, a “Curious” deck electrician and video technician, introduced himself to DesRoche as soon as he heard that the dogs might be adoptable; he fostered Puppy No. 5, Charlie, for a week, commuting with him on the A train, before telling his thrilled kids that the dog would be coming home for good. Puppy No. 16, Lola, who loved the stage so much that she would jump into the gift box as soon as she heard her entrance music, went to Kim Shriver, who was working in the show’s hair department when she met the dogs.
Andrew Long, now playing Christopher’s father, said: “I have an 8-year-old daughter, and as soon as she got wind of the fact that they were being adopted when they got too big, it was just a battle of attrition — ‘Can I have the next one?’ I finally caved in the spring.”
Last week, the actor who has played Christopher for the last year, Tyler Lea, and his alternate, Benjamin Wheelwright, met Puppy No. 21, a 5-pound golden retriever who is expected to be the final one, and who was named Simon, for the playwright, Simon Stephens. DesRoche picked out the dog from a breeder in Pennsylvania on a Sunday and brought him home, where she went through a now-familiar ritual, playing him audio from his scene on her smartphone to acquaint him with the sound, and playing out the scene by rolling around with him on the floor.
On the Tuesday of Simon’s first performance, DesRoche brought him early to the theater to meet the cast; onstage, as most of the cast sat around the perimeter talking to acclimate him to the scene, Lea held a sort of dress rehearsal, using treats to lure the dog as he chased him around the stage, or lying on the floor and letting the dog crawl over his body.
“The goal is having the dog come to me, and just being able to run around the stage and have it follow me around, but I change it up based on what the dog is doing — I have to read what the dog wants to do and work around that,” Lea said. “The puppies do what puppies do.”