Breaking the Codeby Hugh Whitemore. Directed by Joe Calarco. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Is God a mathematician?"
Mike Donovan, Mark H. Dold, Kyle Fabel; photo: Kevin Sprague
Alan Turing was a disturbed genius, but aren't all geniuses a trifle disturbed. A misunderstood child, abused in some ways and just ignored in others, who became a dysfunctional adult, a homosexual whose brains aided Britain and all of western Europe significantly during World War II, he was imprisoned for a sexual indiscretion and ended his own life precipitously leaving behind only his mother to grieve him. He died in 1954; he was pardoned by the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, in December of 2013. Without his work, "Breaking the Code" generated daily by the German Enigma machine, the Nazis might well have won the war and our world would be without this tribute play to the man whose work was little heralded in his day for so many foolish reasons.
Hugh Whitemore's play brings forward scenes from Turing's life between 12929 and 1954. In two and a half hours the company on the Boyd-Quinson stage at Barrington Stage Company's main building in Pittsfield, MA perform these scenes with no shame, no bravado and no equivocation. They show us what was what and how it looked, felt, and smelled. At the end of the play we are returned to the present, the company takes their bows and before the applause has ended they have left the stage. This is a marvelous company in a play helmed by a man who clearly understands vision for he has applied his own fascinating vision to the author's viewpoint of the character's genius. The result is superb theater.
As Alan Turing, the centerpiece of the play, is a marvelously genuine Mark H. Dold. He steps into the awkward tweeds and unpleasant attitudes of Turing with a centered daring that is a joy to behold. He truly has the bit between his teeth in this role and he runs the course from outrage to despair to momentary passion to a son's sudden compassion for a mother he has never understood. Dold plays this man with a verve that Turing himself may never have felt. The character is so alive with Dold inside him animating him, giving him a voice, driving him forward to find a relationship that is rewarding instead of frustrating. He even makes the odd friendships of an elderly scholar and philosopher who runs the program where Turing works on his inventions and the police inspector who ultimately puts this man into prison work for the character of Turing. Dold has come into his own with this role; it is the one I've waited for all these years as he has performed for Barrington Stage.
Kyle Fabel plays the policeman, Mick Ross, who finally prosecutes Turing. From the outset his dark and suspicious side was a shade obvious, but not in a bad way. What Fabel has brought to the role is an undertone of sympathy that brings the hope for a different outcome, but history won't allow that and Fabel knows it. It's a grand performance. Similarly Deborah Hedwall as Alan's mother brings a quirky softness to a character who must remain aloof for far too long. She does more than most have done in this character, never surpassing the lead in pathos yet never lurking in his shadow either. Annie Meisels as the young woman who falls in love with Alan does a good job walking a delicate line. She never goes overboard and she never goes below-decks either, but she manages a mighty mean center line throughout.
Mike Donovan plays both of Turing's lovers, a school-chum named Christopher Morcom and a young Greek named Nikos. He plays both of the beautifully, without sentiment but simply, with honesty. Philip Kerr plays the man Turing works for, his mentor, and whom he respects. His scene in Act Two where he lectures the younger man on morals and mores was extremely well played.
As the lout whose use of Turing's love and trust in exchange for money Jefferson Farber gives a telling and truthful interpretation. The curious and quixotic John Smith is played for what it's worth by John Leonard Thompson.
The Director, John Calarco, has taken these shadowy characters and used them in many more ways than are called for in the script. They are omnipresent from the director-conceived opening of the play almost up to the remarkable squared iris-out the director employs to inform us that there is a death happening before our eyes. In fact this almost filmic technique is one of many Calarco has employed in this stageplay to bring us more and closer into focus ourselves. It's a fascinating combination of tactics and it works. Genius.
Jennifer Caprio's costumes work well for the characters who don them. Brian Prather has communicated the inner core of the play very well with his framework set. Chris Lee's lighting design is beyond excellent, if there is such a place. Lindsay Jones has been sparing with the original music and sound design and that is all to the good, for this is not a movie, it's a play. Much applause goes to Wendy Waterman, the dialect coach, for a job very well done.
"Breaking the Code" was a best play in its day and it still registers strongly as an excellent play with wonderful roles for fabulous actors. Derek Jacobi made a hit with it in 1988 in London and 1987 on Broadway and 1996 on television. Benedict Cumberbatch is possibly repeating that feat in 2014/15. Right now the role belongs to Mark H. Dold in Pittsfield, MA. Catch it if you can.
Deborah Hedwall and Annie Meisels; photo: Kevin Sprague
Mark H. Dold, John Leonard Thompson, Jefferson Faber; photo: Kevin Sprague
Breaking the Code plays on the Boyd-Quinson Stage at Barrington Stage Company mainstage, located at 30 Union Street in Pittsfield, MA through August 2. For information and tickets call the box office at 413-236-8888 or go on line to www.barringtonstageco.org.