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Lovesong of the Electric Bear

Snoo Wilson's offbeat tribute to the life and work of British war hero and scientist Alan Turing is held together by actress Tara Giordano as a stuffed bear.

By New York City
Tara Giordano and Alex Draper in
Lovesong of the Electric Bear
(© Stan Barouh)
Tara Giordano and Alex Draper in
Lovesong of the Electric Bear
(© Stan Barouh)
A stuffed bear takes a dead man on a magical whirlwind tour of his life. While the concept may sound overly cutesy, Snoo Wilson's Lovesong of the Electric Bear, presented by Potomac Theatre Project at the Atlantic Stage 2, is an effective and occasionally moving tale about Alan Turing (Alex Draper), a real-life British war hero and scientist.

Turing made history during World War II as a Nazi code-breaker, and was also a computer pioneer in the field of Artificial Intelligence. However, these achievements are sometimes overshadowed by his other claim to fame: his suicide after being prosecuted for "Gross Indecency" charges and undergoing chemical treatments to "cure" him of his homosexuality.

Wilson's play gives equal weight to all three of these things, and also throws in the young Alan's time at boarding school, his rather eccentric behavior as a Fellow at Cambridge, his troubled relationships with his parents, and his brief engagement to a woman named Joan (Cassidy Boyd), who worked with him at the famed Bletchley Park, the U.K.'s main decryption establishment.

Joan is introduced into the play in a rather fanciful manner, but then abruptly dropped from the plot. More time could also be given to finding out more about Alan's male lovers Kjell and Arnold (both played by Willie McKay). In fact, none of the supporting characters are developed much beyond functionality, which is the play's main weakness.

Still, Wilson's writing is admiringly ambitious and incorporates some wonderfully poetic passages -- most of which are delivered by the truly fantastic Tara Giordano as Porgy Bear. The actress has a facility with language that makes it perfectly natural that she should start to wax on about ancient gods and Greek mythology. Dressed in costume designer Danielle Nieves' adorable bear costume, she proves to be the glue that holds the production together.

Draper successfully manages to embody Alan at various ages in his life. He shifts his physical posture and vocal tics depending upon the situation and comfort level with those around him, and shows off Alan's harder and less sympathetic qualities in addition to his more endearing traits.

The remaining cast members -- all of whom play two or more roles within the production -- are uneven. Peter B. Schmitz, for example, plays five different parts, but there's not enough distinction made between them, and audience members might be confused about which role he's doing at any given time. Part of the blame for this must also rest with director Cheryl Faraone, who could do more to make things clearer.

Despite these faults, however, Lovesong of the Electric Bear engages throughout its nearly two-and-a-half hour running time. It's also a loving, if offbeat tribute to Alan Turing, who clearly deserved more respect in his lifetime and whose tragic death does not undermine his accomplishments.


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