Barrington Stage Company's 'Breaking the Code': A powerful drama resonates


PITTSFIELD -- One of the more revealing moments in director Joe Calarco's haunting production of British playwright Hugh Whitemore's "Breaking the Code" at Barrington Stage Company comes early in the first act.

Christopher Morcom (Mike Donovan), a school chum of the play's central character, Alan Turing (an absolutely stunning Mark Dold), is standing above and behind Turing, his hands resting gently on Turing's shoulders, describing having witnessed a satellite of Jupiter coming out from an eclipse. As Christopher speaks, Turing's hands, almost imperceptibly, reach up along his sleeves, stopping well short of Christopher's fingertips before retreating. The unexpressed want, need, is palpable.

In that moment, it becomes clear that Whitemore's title is not simply a reference to the Germans' Enigma Code, which Turing and his colleagues at top secret Bletchley Park were desperately trying to break at the height of the Second World War. It is about breaking codes of conduct, behavior, expectation. It implicitly refers to the high cost of living a closeted life -- personally as a gay man in a country in which homosexuality is against the law; professionally by doing work that can never be discussed with anyone -- and the even higher cost of what it means to challenge those strictures.

"Breaking the Code" moves back and forth in time over a decade and a half -- before, during and well after World War II -- from Turing's school days to the aftermath of his trial for gross indecency.

While it loses some momentum midway through the second act before recovering, this production moves with inventive theatricality and a keen understanding of the shifting, complex dynamics within Turing and between Turing and the people around him.

This is all played out on a large square platform center stage, flanked by translucent panels on either side and more translucent chalkboards that descend and ascend over the players. When actors are not directly involved in a scene, they are seated, like spectral observers, on either side of the platform. Turing is never far removed from the people who haunt his life.

Either by design or sheer naivete -- perhaps a little of both -- Dold's Turing is his own worst enemy, ignoring the authoritatively delivered advice of his boss and mentor, Dillwyn Knox (a commanding Philip Kerr) and inviting disaster by openly acknowledging his homosexuality.

Turing is a walking catalog of tics -- nail biting, brushing hair out of his face, tracing measured steps around the perimeter of the platform, a pronounced stutter -- that betray a certain timidity and insecurity. He is at his most secure and passionate when he is talking about mathematics, about developing a machine that can think for humans and make perfect the imperfect process of thought.

Dold's flawless, riveting performance may stand at the center of this production but the members of first-rate cast who share the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage with him -- Kerr; Morcom; Deborah Hedwall as Turing's loving and perplexed mother; Anne Meisels as a colleague who misreads Turing's friendship as love; Kyle Fabel as a police inspector; John Leonard Thompson as shadowy government agent; and Jefferson Farber as a sleazy, opportunistic 19-year-old pickup -- deliver performances that are every bit as detailed, full and memorable.


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