Playwright Alex Paul Young puts a fanciful and often fascinating spin on the sad story of Alan Turing (Joe McManus), the genius mathematician whose Enigma machine was credited with helping end World War II by deciphering the code that the Germans used for sending messages.
In Pink Milk, playing at the Gene Frankel Theatre, Young envisions Turing's tale -- which ended with his suicide in 1954 after he was prosecuted in the U.K. for his homosexuality -- as a kind of presentational fable. The show concentrates on the scientist's formative years as a teenager, specifically a homoerotic relationship Alan has with his schoolmate Christopher (Matt Moynihan) before quickly moving through Alan's adult life, and, in particular, one post-war relationship that spurs the government's case against him.
It's a lot of material to cover in a one-act play, and while Young handles the biography economically, he overstuffs the play with flights of fancy -- which include appearances by the cartoon version of Snow White (Casey Hartley) and monologues from "The Inanimate Objects" (including a glass of milk tainted by bovine tuberculosis that dooms Christopher).
The piece is further undermined by interludes in which the multiply cast ensemble perform stylized dances meant to illustrate feelings and societal pressures that Alan's experiencing, and by performances that are often curiously wooden and emotionally disconnected. Particularly troubling is Erin Cutler's turn as both Alan and Christopher's mothers. While the text indicates a certain softness and tenderness in each, Cutler's work can often be cuttingly strident.
But, thanks to McManus' generally charming turn as Alan, Moynihan's charismatic work as Christopher, and Ben Barker's disarmingly human performance as "The Experiments" (Alan's various robotic devices), audiences will, most likely, find themselves seeing the promise in Young's work and voice, and may even be moved by this portrait of a bullied and tormented gay man whose tale is, unfortunately, timeless.
-- Andy Propst