Who was Alan Turing? “Founder of computer science, mathematician, philosopher, codebreaker, strange visionary and a gay man before his time.” (www.turing.org.uk) I, unlike some of my compatriots, did not know about this fascinating man. I did minor research prior to seeing the play, and then sat down, and was transported to another dimension.
Enter a young man named Alan Turing who was making robots and exploring his sexuality, much to the chagrin of his parents. He falls in love with Christopher Morcom, a childhood friend, and piano-playing outcast. They circle around their feelings, until succumbing to them when it is almost too late. Christopher dies too young due to bovine tuberculosis. Alan tries to move forward, but things really fall apart. At the same time that he was making computers to break Nazi codes, his personal life was in shambles. His obsession with Snow White, younger men, his innocence, his poet’s view of life all characterize a strange soul with much to teach this world.
Lace into this storyline, the minor story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. This was Disney’s first animated full length film in theaters. And everyone, Alan Turing included, was mesmerized. In his biopic film with Benedict Cumberbatch, Turning’s obsession takes a more central spotlight. In this play it rears its head occasionally, to underscore the innocence, the truth, and the fairy tale story of a man who just wanted to be accepted. P.S. Google “The Turing Test” which indicates how to program Artificial Intelligence and determine man from machine. Crazy stuff.
The overall aesthetic and vibe of the show is singularly characteristic of Single Carrot, it is odd, but works. All the actors are wearing flowy jumpsuits, each in a pastel color with matching shoes, thanks to costumes by Susan MacCorkle. Alan, is designated by his gray outfit instead. The flowers on the suits are a nice touch too, I took it to mean that Alan would have seen everything in blooming color but himself, or I could be really off here. There are odd moments of jerking movements and a soundtrack garishly clanging against itself- it works as a transition for times and scenes, but maybe also lets us see the chaos of Alan’s mind. The choreography was done by Valerie Branch with sound design by Ariel Zetina (also the playwright). Alison Campbell’s set design is stark, and white, but of the most usefulness. The upper compartments all become working pieces of computers, and the drawers all harbor secret costumes and props when appropriate. Director Ben Kleymeyer keeps a tight pace, and demands many different forms form each of their actors. The overall consensus is that it works, but is still a bit jarring.
The stand-out performance of the night goes to Benairen Kane. Kane is the tall actor in the blue jumpsuit with envious thick black hair in a loose ponytail. His small parts in the beginning blend him with the ensemble; but later in the play he takes on two distinct roles that draw your attention. The first is Snow White, even though he was wearing a Cinderella dress. Kane’s wide eyes and subtle nuisances solidify him as the princess brought to life for Turing. The other is Alan’s lover Arnold. Kane changes everything again at the drop of a hat and becomes a swaggering con-man that is to be trusted (look at that grin) and to be skeptical of, all in the same breath.
Isaiah Harvey as Christopher, and Mohammad R. Suaidi as Alan are an adorable match. Their awkward chemistry, as two young boys first discovering love, is tender and well developed. It looks natural, unforced, and very organic. Not an easy task! Suaidi manages the nice task of creating machines and having a technical mind, but also appearing vulnerable, confused, and at odds with a world that doesn’t always understand his genius.
“The Mothers” are all portrayed by Meghan Stanton. She shifts muumuus and head wraps to coordinate with the color of each child she is mothering in that moment. She also acts as a key piece of the ensemble. Paul Diem is “the experiments” often draping himself in knitted shawls to portray the different AI computers Turing was creating. Diem’s infectious smiles, and sheer innocence shine through his mee-maw knitted shawls. The cast is rounded out by Lauren Jackson as “the inanimate objects” but mostly a love-interest of Alan, and a Daisy who offers him hope. And Christian Gonzalez as Alan’s father and other “authority figures” with a pink tie tight and high around his neck, even while shouting orders in a military hat.
The most fascinating part of the play is the story at its center. I went home and google searched almost anything I could find on Alan Turing. Yes, he really was arrested and charged with homosexuality. Yes, the choice was jail or chemical castration- estrogen shots. Yes, he died from what we think is cyanide poisoning; although modern forensics are still putting a question mark on it. The British government pardoned him posthumously for his arrest and label. You can’t make this shit up!
This life of chaos, genius, love, tenderness, philosophy, and unrest is ripe for storytelling. And playwright Ariel Zetina does an excellent job of giving us an abstract of his life, ripe with potential, but characterized by judgement, misunderstanding, and greed of others who controlled Alan, his machines, and his world. Suaidi says at one point, “don’t do what they want you to do.” And yet he succumbs to the pressures outside himself and it leads to his tragic demise. That advice though Alan, is solid.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? Go see this remarkable play, about a remarkable man, who fought the law and the law won. Turing’s mind seems years beyond his existence, and his story is so unbelievable you too will question the fact from fiction. The acting and ambiance are other-worldly, and the entire performances surreal storytelling will leave you in a wonderment of disbelief. This is performance art at its finest.
Running time about an hour and twenty minutes with no intermission. At Single Carrot through May 19th.