Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cincinnati

Breaking the Code
Falcon Theatre
Review by Rick Pender | Season Schedule

Also see Rick's review of Stew and Scott's review of Peter Pan

Rick Grant and Forrest Fairley
Photo by Claudia Hershner
For many people, the distinction between right and wrong is not hard to discern. That dividing line draws them toward seemingly clear-cut decisions in fields like mathematics and engineering, and it's what attracted Alan Turing (1912-1954) to his life's work. Interestingly, his studies actually led him to a frustrating paradox regarding a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior. His "Turing Test" grew out of his research and studies, but also colored his understanding of his own behavior. Turing's life was complicated by his homosexuality in an era when it was a crime in the United Kingdom. Turing was challenged and ultimately punished by society's reaction to his orientation, which he firmly believed was not wrong, nor something to be hidden.

One of the outcomes of Turing's synthesizing scientific mind was decoding the encryption of the Enigma cipher machines used by Nazi Germany during World War II. His work made it possible to detect top-secret plans, leading to Allied victory in naval combat. The English mathematician and theoretical computer scientist's theorizing also laid the foundation for artificial intelligence, or AI, much in the news in the 21st century, nearly seven decades after Turing's death.

Benedict Cumberbatch portrayed Turing in The Imitation Game, the 2014 film inspired by Alan Hodges' biography that emphasized his work to break the Enigma code. That biography was also the source for Hugh Whitemore's play, Breaking the Code, the current production at Falcon Theatre. It gives a fuller portrait of Turing's personal life, his beliefs, and his multifaceted mind.

Falcon's production with a nine-person cast managed by veteran Cincinnati director Ed Cohen, features Rick Grant in a tour-de-force portrait of Turing. He is on stage from start to finish in this two-and-a-half hour production (one intermission), interacting with castmates playing people who came and went from Turing's life. Most scenes are one-on-one interactions, enabling a multifaceted portrait of this complicated man. His mind was always spinning and connecting, and he was often oblivious to how he was perceived. His naïve frankness betrayed him when he reported a burglary at his home. Speaking to a police investigator, he first lied to protect a man he was having an affair with. Pressed for details, his revelation led to criminal charges for "gross indecency" followed by horrifying hormone treatments that led to his ultimate suicide.

Grant's performance as Turing varies according to the person Turing is meeting with at various moments in his life. (Scenes in Breaking the Code are not strictly chronological.) Turing is guarded with the nuts-and-bolts, by-the-rules police inspector Mick Ross (Ted Weil), open and loving with his boyhood friend Christopher Morcom (Parker Culp), and awkward with his caring but frequently oblivious mother (Linda Callahan). With two characters, more complex relationships are offered. The dithering Dillwyn Knox (Forrest Fairley) interviews about coming to work at Bletchley Park when Turing is standoffish. Once their collaboration is underway, they become respectful colleagues. Fairley does a fine job as the man who tries to give Turing guidance about his professional career and the impact his personal choices could have. Rachel Mock plays matter-of-fact Pat Green, another Bletchley colleague, who falls in love with Turing's intelligence, even when she senses his homosexuality. He awkwardly rejects her interest, but their final scene, several years after his conviction and disgrace, is an especially moving one.

Grant has wholly inhabited this complex and certainly exhausting role. His Turing often speaks rapidly about his thoughts and theories, sometimes in dialogue and other times in long monologues. The second act opens with a wonderful scene of him addressing a class of school children, describing his work in terms they might understand. He compares the appearance of a human brain to a bowl of cold porridge, but then expands to explain the prospect and potential of an electronic mechanical brain. Grant's delivery of this monologue, perhaps five or six minutes long, is clear and insightful–even if you've been lost in some of the first act's discursive theoretical exchanges with Dillwyn Knox and Pat Green.

The challenge of staging Breaking the Code is the steady torrent of verbiage. Director Ed Cohen keeps it varied on a mostly bare stage, just four black, ladder-backed chairs that are arranged and rearranged. Occasionally, the actors sit on the stage apron, closer to the theater's small seating area. The stage's back wall is papered with pages of computer code, and scene transitions are backed with the soft clicking sounds of a keyboard. Despite the minimal visuals, the production is engaging, but it does require audience members to pay close attention to a lot of theorizing. Grant's accomplished acting keeps his portrait of Turing human, passionate and admirable.

This is the second Falcon production of the season to feature an outstanding acting performance. Back in January in Vincent, Chad Brinkman was convincing as Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo. This time Rick Grant provides the kind of acting that should inspire serious theatregoers to seek out this small venue in Newport, Kentucky.

Breaking the Code runs through March 30, 2024, at Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth Street, Newport KY. For tickets and information, please visit or call 513-479-6783.