Actor Colin Prato, right, and his brother Jack. Photo courtesy of Hackmatack Playhouse

BERWICK – Colin Prato intimately understands what it’s like for a kid with special needs. His older brother, Jack, has Down syndrome, and Prato witnessed what Jack and his friends had to put up with in school and elsewhere.

Other kids didn’t understand Jack or make an effort to try. It was easier for them to make fun of Jack and ostracize him than to get to know and accept him, Prato said.

The 21-year-old actor from Yarmouth brings a lifetime of empathy and understanding to his portrayal of teenage Christopher in the play “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” at Hackmatack Playhouse in Berwick, on stage through July 20. It’s about the death of a neighbor’s dog that young Christopher investigates, though the play is much deeper than a thriller or mystery.

Actor Colin Prato of Yarmouth stars as Christopher Boone in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” at Hackmatack Playhouse in Berwick. Photo courtesy of Hackmatack Playhouse

Christopher is on the autism spectrum, and the play hinges on his relationships with his parents, his school mentor and others. Prato saw the play on Broadway in 2015 and immediately appreciated how deftly playwright Simon Stephens “was able to illuminate this young boy in such a way that made all of his habits and all of his tendencies relatable.”

Prato brings what he calls his brother’s “legacy of expression” to the role, based on a lifetime of observations and interactions with his brother, who is one year older. Prato is on stage the entire show, which involves 57 scenes, and the role requires him to be in motion and active nearly all the time. Director Danielle Howard praised what she called Prato’s “physical vocabulary. He brings real authenticity and truthfulness to the role that never feels like artifice.”

Prato is a rising senior at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, where he is studying acting and directing. In addition to his role in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” Prato will act in “Peter and Star Catcher” to close the Hackmatack season. In between, Hackmatack will present the musical “Mamma Mia.”

As director, Howard is pushing Prato to portray Christopher as a teenager learning difficult things about his parents, not as a kid with autism struggling to cope. She wants the audience to understand Christopher’s feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated, as well as the idea that “neurotypical people are strange,” she said. “It’s a wonderful celebration of just the diversity of being human and all the things that’s like.”

The 8 p.m. performance Thursday is a fundraiser for Madison’s Cafe in South Berwick. The restaurant hires employees with special needs, including those on the spectrum. This performance will open with an introduction about the cafe.

The play won a best-play Tony Award in 2015. Good Theater in Portland staged the Maine premiere of the play last fall.


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