note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
Catalyst Collaborative at MIT, a science theater collaboration between MIT and Underground Railway Theater, along with talented director Adam Zahler, gathered a fantastic cast in Hugh Whitemore’s “Breaking the Code,” the intensely sensitive story of wronged homosexual genius mathematician, Alan Turing, who also created the modern computer’s forerunner. The play is an adaptation of Andrew Hodges’ 1983 biography, “Alan Turing: The Enigma,” showing Turing’s multifaceted personality, from mathematician to marathon runner, closeted gay, war hero, and Disney fan.
Allyn Burrows as Turing touches our souls with his intense passion for mathematics, his love of numbers (they were his best childhood friends, he declares), and his searing sensitivity, honesty, and search for love in wrong places.
Besides dealing with people who can’t understand his genius and won’t accept his homosexuality, thus accusing him of gross indecency, Turing has a speech impediment - he stammers and stutters under stress. He also must correct his well-meaning, but dotty mother, Sara, (magnificently portrayed by Debra Wise).
Turing is incessantly frustrated and embarrassed by Sara’s lack of knowledge regarding mathematics and science; but when he confesses later to her that he’s gay and in trouble with the law, she surprisingly rises above it all, comforting and supporting him.
Because gay rights are predominantly in the forefront today, we barely bat an eyelash when celebrities, politicians, and athletes “come out” openly. But in 1951, when police officials discovered Turing was gay, based on a report he filed when somebody burgled his apartment, and he admitted he had an affair with the suspect, Turing was vilified, disgraced, much like Oscar Wilde. Turing was tried as a sexual deviant, barred from working at UK Government Communication Headquarters in 1952, even though Sir Winston Churchill credited Turing for winning World War II by breaking the Nazi Enigma machine codes, and for his outstanding work in mathematics and with the “electronic brain”.
The play spans from 1928 to 1954, shifting back and forth in time, highlighting snippets of Turing’s childhood and youth, his meteoric rise to fame, his downfall, shame and suicide.
The audience is seated, square-like, surrounding the actors on the small center stage. When they are off-stage, the actors sits among the audience in designated seats. where they quickly change costumes without drawing attention to themselves. Franklin Meissner Jr.’s lighting is key, especially as one scene fades into another. Veteran actor Dafydd Rees deftly plays two roles - pragmatic, probing police detective Mick Knox and kindly, doddering schoolmaster Dillwyn Knox, who pleads with Turing to be more discreet with his sexual relationships. Also touching is Liz Hayes as Pat Green, who falls in love with Turing, knowing he’s gay, but hoping he’ll love her anyway.
Versatile Boston actor Danny Bryce changes costumes and accents as Turing’s beloved young friend, Christopher Morcom, (whom Turing idolizes, but dies when he’s a student at Sherborne Academy); also, as Turing’s lovers, Ron Miller and Nikos. Mark Harpin rounds out the cast as Smith.
The only caution is because the actors perform in the round, their backs sometimes face a segment of the audience, making them less audible.
That doesn’t deter from “Breaking the Code”. It’s a stirring drama, based on a human tragedy, wherein an apology came much too late.
BOX INFO: Two-act play written by Hugh Whitemore, presented by Catalyst Collaborative at MIT, appearing now through May 8 at Central Square Theater, 450 Mass. Ave., Cambridge. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Check for post-show events. Tickets are $40; seniors, $30; students with college IDs, $25; youths 12-18, $15; group discounts. Call 866-811-4111, visit CentralSquareTheater.org or the Box Office.