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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

Breaking the Code
Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield Massachusetts

Also see Fred's review of Interview with John Cariani and Julianne Boyd of Dancing Lessons


Mark H. Dold
Barrington Stage Company's production of Hugh Whitemore's Breaking the Code, continuing through August 2 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, is a strong one which boasts a blazing performance by Mark H. Dold as computer genius Alan Turing. Directed with specificity by Joe Calarco, the main stage presentation finds Turing in life process as he configures the Nazi Enigma code during World War II.

Those complementary actors who are not involved in a scene oftentimes retreat to positions on the sides of the stage. The characters include co-worker Pat Green (Annie Meisels), Turing's mother Sarah (Deborah Hedwall), supervisor Dillwyn Knox (Philip Kerr), police sergeant Mick Ross (Kyle Fabel), and first lover Christopher Morcom (Mike Donovan, who later plays Nikos, a Greek man). Ron Miller (Jefferson Farber), whose role is key, is stationed there, too, as is John Smith, played by John Leonard Thompson.

Brian Prather's wonderfully appropriate set choices include window-like screens displaying math equations and explanations. These gracefully come and go; otherwise, the stage includes a wooden table and chairs. Just right. All of this clears space for Dold. The actor stammers, moves haltingly, evidences his insecurities, wears his anxiety upon his face, flicks at the lock of plastered down hair which tends to flip over his eye. All the while, Dold is precisely disciplined as he fully controls a performance which blends intellectual understanding of the character with great nuance.

Breaking the Code flashes back to Turing's school period around 1930 and concludes as his life ends in 1954; the stress is upon wartime and years thereafter. It is not until well into the proceedings that Turing divulges just how he has solved the convoluted mathematical code. In actuality, the play's initial expository section is not totally satisfactory. This is counter-balanced by Dold who snares the audience from opening moments with his herky-jerky physicality and stutter.

Whitemore's plot is based upon truth, and the emotional focus of the story is Turing's homosexuality. He admits this, outright, to colleague Pat Green, perhaps thinking this will stun her. She, in love with him, replies without hesitation that she knew. Turing has an affair with youthful Ron and comes up with something he knows to be false. He speaks of a robbery but does not want to divulge what has gone on with Ron. Later, Turing does admit all to the police investigator. Ultimately, Turing was injected with estrogen as punishment. It was not until December, 2013, that Turing was posthumously pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II.

The play was written in 1986 and first performed in New York a year later. These many years later, attitudes have modified. The play does not feel at all dated. Instead, the acuity of the production and toll exacted upon Turing, in many ways heroic, cannot be understated. This is all about Dold's performance, most commanding. While it must be enormously fatiguing for mind, body, and spirit to take on the role day after day, the actor remains invigorated even approaching the conclusion of the current run.

Near the end of the play, Turing says, "In the long run, it's not breaking the code that matters. Where you go from there, that's the real problem."

Breaking the Code evolves from the school days of the protagonist through the final hours of his life. For much of the time, Turing wears a rumpled brown suit, an excellent choice by costumer Jennifer Caprio. A single red apple is significantly pivotal ...

Breaking the Code continues at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts through August 2nd, 2014. For tickets, call (413) 236-8888 or visit barringtonstageco.org.


Photo: Kevin Sprague


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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