Alan Turing comes to life in ‘Breaking the Code’ 

click to enlarge John Fisher, left, and Val Hendrickson appear in Theatre Rhinoceros’ production of “Breaking the Code,” a compelling drama about computer science pioneer Alan Turing. - COURTESY DAVID WILSON
  • COURTESY DAVID WILSON
  • John Fisher, left, and Val Hendrickson appear in Theatre Rhinoceros’ production of “Breaking the Code,” a compelling drama about computer science pioneer Alan Turing.
Telling the story of an unsung British mathematician, the Tony Award-nominated play “Breaking the Code” and the 2014 hit movie “The Imitation Game” have the same source material: “Alan Turing: The Enigma,” a biography by Andrew Hodges.

Unlike the film, with a Hollywood spin and too-clever banter that leaves the audience wondering what really happened, Hugh Whitemore’s 1986 “Breaking the Code” – onstage at the Eureka Theatre in an elegant Theatre Rhinoceros production – is a far more satisfying and fulfilling depiction of the life of the scientist, whose admission of homosexuality in the 1950s derailed a remarkable (if little-known) life and career.

John Fisher does terrific double duty in the Theatre Rhino show, both directing and portraying Turing, the brilliant yet socially awkward character whose creativity, single-mindedness and iconoclasm posthumously earned him the title “father of computer science.”

With a slightly off-putting speech pattern yet an underlying confidence, Fisher is convincing as Turing at various stages in his life, from boyhood (with an undeniable crush on his schoolmate Christopher), to middle-age (as he faces charges of gross indecency after telling authorities he has affairs with men while reporting a burglary at his home). His dedication to discovery and science is also evident in his secret work at Bletchley Park, where he and a team broke Nazi codes that, significantly, led to Allied victory in World War II.

The ensemble wonderfully complements Fisher in Whitemore’s drama, which remains clear as it flashes back and forth. It starts in the 1950s, when Turing tells a police sergeant (Patrick Ross) about the break-in at his house, and hits points in his life reflecting various relationships: with lovers and crushes (Justin Lucas, Heren Patel), his mother Sara (Celia Maurice), his female scientist friend Pat (Kirsten Peacock), and colleagues (Val Hendrickson).

The characters surrounding Turing are wonderfully human: Ross as the no-nonsense cop, Lucas as the sketchy paramour, Maurice as the sympathetic mom, Peacock as a woman in love not detracted by his homosexuality, Hendrickson as a clear-headed counselor and Patel as love interests early and late in Turing’s life.

Jon Wai-keung Lowe, in charge of the set and lighting, created a simple, effective design (wooden table and chairs, math problems on a chalkboard at the back ) that has touches of science, but, more importantly, provides a backdrop to showcase the many social, political and emotional dimensions of Turing’s extraordinary life.

REVIEW

Breaking the Code

Presented by Theatre Rhinoceros

Where: Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; closes March 21

Tickets: $10 to $30

Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.brownpapertickets.com, www.therhino.org

About The Author

Leslie Katz

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