Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 21, 2014

Breaking the Code

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA.
through August 2, 2014
by Jarice Hanson

The life of a mathematical genius reputed to have had Asperger’s Syndrome and who became a British war hero for his work on cracking the Enigma Code to help end WWII is inherently interesting, but not necessarily theatrical. Add the facts that he was arrested for homosexual “gross indecency” and prescribed female hormones to “control” his sexuality, and that he has become known as the “father” of artificial intelligence, and the story becomes even more compelling, but how could this possibly translate into good theatre?

The answer is in the brilliant, tour-de-force performance of Mark H. Dold who makes the life of Alan Turing come alive in Barrington Stage Company’s bold production of the 1986 London hit show, "Breaking the Code." The title is a double entendre, intended in part to explain the literal code breaking of cryptography, but it also refers to the “code of secrecy” that surrounded homosexuality during Turing’s life (1929-1954). Seven additional actors are all first-rate, but Dold commands the stage and tells the story of a man who figures out the logic of numbers even though the logic of human beings eludes him.

Director Joe Calarco keeps the action moving despite an intentionally spare set, further focusing the audience’s gaze on Dold. Hugh Witemore’s script is verbose and takes some liberty with historical facts, but humanizes the man whose childhood friends were numbers, and who gets into trouble because he “says things he shouldn’t say.”

The production is not perfect, however. The script suffers from trying to cover too much, and shifts from one time period to another are somewhat confusing. The performance comes in at 2 hours and 45 minutes (including intermission) which may stretch the patience of a summer audience, but for those with curiosity about Turing, or respect for a performance like Dold’s, "Breaking the Code" will be a memorable experience.