FARGO — For the troupe's latest show, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre's director has had to tackle some unique challenges. Adam Pankow had to bring in an outside lighting designer and additional gear, as well as try his hand as a pet wrangler.

“This show is so atypical in so many ways. Trying to find a live dog and a live rat and the technical requirements of it all are a challenge, but it’s going to be a show that will be a delight to the eyes and ears,” he says.

The show is also atypical in who the main character is and how his story unfolds.

Christopher is a 15-year-old who, when he finds out a neighborhood dog has been murdered, decides to solve the crime.

Teen sleuths aren’t anything new, but Christopher’s personality is more akin to Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes than the jovial Hardy Boys.

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It’s not overtly said in the play or the source novel of the same name, but Christopher appears to be on the autism spectrum. He has a hard time fitting in socially, but will share everything he knows when he’s so inclined and will completely shut down when stressed.

“This is a show not about autism, but all about autism at the same time,” Pankow says. “It adds a level of dimension to the story that doesn’t exist in some of the other detective stories.”

Cast members gather around Jason Diers as he plays Christopher during a rehearsal for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" at The Stage at Island Park. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Cast members gather around Jason Diers as he plays Christopher during a rehearsal for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" at The Stage at Island Park. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

While the character may be on the spectrum, Pankow doesn’t see this play as necessarily an overture to the autism and Asperger's syndrome community.

“Our mission here at the theater is to be inclusive and provide opportunities for all ages, all abilities, all genders,” he says. “For us to put onto our stage a story that shines a small light on autism and people with that condition, that’s as important as any other story on our stage has significance… Just as race or gender would be an important topic we’d want to tackle, this would be as well.”

The play is also important in that it ties into FMCT’s desire to present classic and contemporary theater works. The book was released in 2003, and the play premiered nine years later.

While the book was marketed as both a novel for adults and young adults, Pankow says the play is really only for audience members 13 and older as it includes some swearing and the slain pet. Rather, he considers it a coming-of-age story.

While in the book Christopher is the sole narrator,  the story is told on the stage through other characters as well, and the journey Christopher goes on while solving the case unfolds with the help of creative lighting and projections.

Pankow knew the house lights at The Stage at Island Park had limitations, so he brought in lighting designer Bryan Duncan from Concordia College and 1,500 moving lights and 550 additional feet of cable.

And then there’s the matter of the pets. On Sunday, Pankow posted a message on social media looking for a dog for the production after the previously cast pooch got cold paws. Within a day, the director had his replacement. The pup does not play the murdered pet, but rather a therapy dog later in the show.

There’s also a rat on the stage that Pankow had to find for the show, another rarity for working in the theater.

“To connect all of those pieces together to create a really visually stunning show, that’s been a fun challenge,” Pankow says.

If you go

What: "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time"

When: 7:30 p.m., Friday, Feb. 1, Saturday, Feb. 2, and Feb. 7-9; 2 p.m. matinee Saturday and Feb. 7 - 9, and 2 p.m., Sunday

Where: The Stage at Island Park, 333 Fourth St. S., Fargo

Info: Tickets range from $13 to $23; http://www.fmct.org or 701-235-6778