Monthly Archive for: ‘March, 2015’

Art imitates life in play about gay lover of logic and men

[Woody’s Rating: ★★★½☆

John Fisher (kneeling) directs himself (as gay scientist Alan Turing) and Heren Patel (as his young Greek lover, Nikos) in “Breaking the Code.” Photo by David Wilson.

The real Alan Turing.

One plus one can add up to more than one might expect.

Having seen the film “The Imitation Game,” I suspected I’d find “Breaking the Code,” a parallel play about math and men, merely a re-run since it leaned on the same biographical source — the real life of Alan Turing.

My computations were wrong.

“Code” adds considerable depth by emphasizing Turing’s homosexuality and humanness (as opposed to the hit movie’s slicker, dramatic focus on the gay scientist’s breaking a Nazi code).

Indeed, John Fisher doesn’t portray Turing. He instead inhabits the character’s body and makes him astoundingly authentic.

A mental giant and “an old poof” to whom “possessions per se mean very little.”

Powerful yet pathetic.

Fisher adroitly incorporates the atheist mathematician’s quirkiness without turning him into a caricature — his OCD-like insistence on lining up chairs and tables with exactitude (on an almost bare, pliable set); his fussy straightening of clothing; his recurrent fingernail-biting; and his childlike climbing into a fetal position in chairs.

The director also slyly prods the plot through a recording of “Someday My Prince Will Come” from the Disney cartoon classic, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Both play, which is surprisingly not devoid of humor, and film are well worth seeing.

And, happily, still catchable.

The former, presented by Theatre Rhinoceros, runs through March 21 at the Eureka Theatre in San Francisco; the latter can yet be found in various Bay Area movie houses.

I, for one, was glad I saw the movie first — it made the jerky backward-and-forward time shifts of the play simpler to discern.

Turing was an unlikeable, often neurotic, sometimes dysfunctional gay scientist who — despite odds of “50,000 to 1 against” —broke the Enigma code.

His work, which resulted in his pioneering the computer and artificial intelligence, helped win World War II because it enabled the Allied forces to pinpoint Nazi U-boat movements.

Turing, ironically a devotee of logic, nevertheless was convicted of being a homosexual.

He was sentenced to undergo hormone treatments that left him so physically and mentally bereft he, after two years of persecution, committed suicide at age 41.

That tragedy, apparently a historic inevitability, might well slice through a theatergoer’s emotional armor.

“Breaking the Code,” by Emmy award-winning playwright Hugh Whitemore, was based on Andrew Hodges’ book. It was originally produced in London and on Broadway in the late ‘80s.

But the playwright apparently took some liberties with the truth.

For instance, Turning, who was protected by Winston Churchill (and posthumously pardoned by Queen Elizabeth in December 2013), had been thoroughly investigated by police.

He didn’t accidentally blurt out his sexual preferences to a cop.

Accurately depicted, however, was the scientist’s fascination-flirtation with a schoolmate, Christopher Morcom, whose premature death haunted him all his life — and an awkward, non-sexual, short-lived entanglement with a female co-worker who worshipped him.

Not only is Fisher, the Rhino’s executive artistic director since 2002, brilliant in his acting, his direction is equally luminous.

He makes the play’s two hours race by, he ensures everyone’s British accent is consistent and easy to penetrate, and he draws the best possible performances from Celia Maurice as Turing’s doting but unenlightened mother, Sarah; Val Hendrickson as Dillwyn Knox, his supportive boss who personally doesn’t care if Turing goes “to bed with choir boys or cocker spaniels” but frets about what the authorities will think; Kirsten Peacock as his infatuated coworker friend Pat Green; and Justin Lucas as Ron Miller, Turning’s lover-user-betrayer.

Like most, I knew zilch about Turing before the publicity bandwagon gassed up for “Imitation Game” and Benedict Cumberbatch’s starring role.

I feel richer for having been informed.

“Breaking the Code” will play at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St. (at Front and Battery streets), San Francisco, through March 21. Evening performances, Sundays, 7 p.m.; Wednesdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m. Matinees, Saturdays, 3 p.m. Tickets: $10 to $30 (subject to change). Information: 1-800-838-3006 or

Contact Woody Weingarten at or check out his blog at

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