Arts preview: ‘Breaking the Code’

Jim Fischer
Columbus Alive
Ian Short as Alan Turing in the Evolution Theatre Company/CATCO co-presentation of “Breaking the Code,” photo courtesy CATCO

British mathematician Alan Turing wasn't just one thing.

He wasn't simply a brilliant mind whose work in cryptanalysis led to the breaking of a German secret code during World War II, tilting the balance of power to the Allies and saving countless lives, while simultaneously creating the foundation for technology that would become the computer. He also wasn't simply a gay man, whose admission to British police following an incident in 1952 of having a sexual relationship with a man — a criminal offense at the time — led to his accepting hormonal therapy designed to reverse his “condition” in lieu of imprisonment.

“It's a story about a human being and all that encompasses,” said Mark Phillips Schwamberger,managing artistic director of Evolution Theatre Company, which co-presents “Breaking the Code,” the Hugh Whitemore play that tells Turing's story, with CATCO starting this weekend at the Columbus Performing Arts Center. “It's heartbreaking and humorous and heartwarming, all these things intertwined. And isn't that life?”

That Turing refused to see math in black and white terms isn't lost on director Joe Bishara.

“[Turing] says there are shades of grey even in math, says repeatedly that 1 + 1 is not always 2,” Bishara said. “When he's questioned about his sexuality, he comes back to that. He may not say, ‘I am gay; hear me roar.' But he does ask, ‘This is who I am. Why is it wrong?'”

Bishara said “Breaking the Code” boasts the same non-binary approach — neither pure historical drama nor social commentary. Woven into the narrative are flashbacks to Turing's early life, scenes that help lay the groundwork for who he would become and how he would form relationships. The script also includes monologues in which Turing explains his philosophies on mathematics, as well as a perhaps unexpected level of humor.

“It's beautifully written. Of course, given the title, we talk about the code and the importance of [Turing's] work in breaking it,” Bishara said. “But even more it breaks down what makes a person a person.”

And yet, in a day when the current administration is considering narrowly defining gender, “Breaking the Code” does speak to current events, despite being a timeless period piece. Schwamberger noted the added importance of presenting a play about a person who “did so much for the world, and what the world then turned and did to him,” during LGTB History Month.

Columbus Performing Arts Center

Through Nov. 11

549 Franklin Ave., Downtown

"Breaking the Code"