These days you can’t swing a secret decoding book without hitting a play, biopic, or documentary about Alan Turing. There is no question that Mr. Turing (1912-1954) was a mathematical prodigy whose genius left a legacy that remains scientifically relevant to this day. But it is the circumstances of his too-short life that continues to intrigue, inform, and inspire.
The hit revival of Hugh Whitemore’s 1986 Breaking the Code by Theater Rhinoceros at the Eureka Theater masterfully captures Turing’s professional assent, first for his contributions in developing computer science as we know it then later for his pivotal part in breaking the Nazi’s Enigma code that helped the Allies win World War II to his subsequent tragic fall from public grace for being gay.
Whether by nature or necessity, Turing was a complex man who tried—and ultimately failed—to compartmentalize his life, leading to his apparent suicide in 1954. In a series of well-executed scenes, the play guides us through Mr. Turing’s life from stumbling adolescent to resigned victim of repressive laws as an adult. Directed by and starring Theater Rhinoceros Artistic Director John Fisher, this show is must-see drama.
This production is not “gay theater” nor is it a fringe work designed to incite people with too much anger for the world to scream Oppression! on their Facebook and Twitter accounts, typed furiously on their Taco Bell-stained laptop keyboard. This production of Breaking the Code is quality theater of the first rank that could be picked-up and dropped unchanged into a venue like the SF Playhouse, Marin Theater Company or Aurora Theater.
Clearly a well-rehearsed production, the direction was solid, professional, and well executed with twice the much-deserved applause because the director is also the lead actor. It is much more difficult to direct yourself than others but John Fisher did it seamlessly. Pacing was nice—brisk but not breathless. The show also used pauses well—a rare dramatic art these days.
The set by Jon Wai-keung Lowe is ingeniously simple and forms a perfect backdrop for the events of Mr. Turing’s life. Inserting doors into the blackboards stage left and right was a clever staging choice.
John Fisher’s props are spare but period proper and well rendered.
Lara Rempel’s costume choices were first-rate, period proper, and well rendered. Period hose on the ladies was a nice detail.
Jon Wai-keung Lowe and Sean Keehan’s lighting design was subtle and largely unobtrusive.
Colin Johnson’s sound effects were generally good.
From an acting perspective, Mr. Fisher was simply outstanding. New or seasoned students acting students should buy tickets to study a true professional at work. Frank Wang played hustler Ron Miller obliquely as a man made of angles and edges, each sharper than the last. Val Henrickson, as Turing co-worker Dillwyn Knox, provided a witty performance as the professional oracle of bad things to come. Particularly enjoyable was Patrick Ross as empathetic detective Mike Ross, who seems genuinely hurt that Mr. Turing has blurted out a story revealing his own homosexuality, leaving the lawman no choice but to investigate Mr. Turing and charge him with gross indecency. The scene is hard to watch and the audience was silent save for the collective sign of 60 souls seeing a man put himself squarely in the crosshairs of the law. Heren Patel assumes two roles in the show: an awkward school boy and a Grecian guy-for-rent whose stream of Greek-speech is both impressive and quite funny.
As produced by Theatre Rhinoceros and expertly directed by John Fisher, Breaking theCode is thoughtful, taut, often funny, touching, heartfelt, and skillfully rendered. From lights-up to lights-down, this fast-paced production is how quality theater is done. This is not a hard code to break: run, don’t walk, to see this show—and bring your friends.
Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitemore, directed by John Fisher.
Run time: 2:10 with one intermission.
Theatre Rhinoceros, Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco, CA 94111.
Rating: Four out of Five Stars
Script available here.
Audio Theater Edition available here.
Masterpiece Theater version available here.
Book available here.
Tickets available here at: http://www.therhino.org/buy.htm
Kris Neely is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theater Critics Circle and a Theater Bay Area (TBA) Adjudicator.
Mr. Neely’s blogs on theater and performing arts are found on Aisle Seat Review at www.AisleSeatReview.com and also on For All Events at www.ForAllEvents.com.
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