nytheatre.com review by Lynn Berg
August 12, 2012
This summer is the centennial of Alan Turing's birth and 2012 has been named "Alan Turing Year." Although Western civilization as we know it owes much to this tragic hero, I didn't know anything about Turing before this year and I imagine many theatergoers may not, either. White Elephant's Pink Milk offers a mesmerizing theatrical tribute to the man behind the historic figure of Alan Turing.
Turing's work helped Great Britain crack Nazi codes and was instrumental in winning World War II. He is considered the father of modern computer science. You and I owe him for the ideas that make it possible for you to read this on a computer screen right now. Turing was a homosexual, for which he was prosecuted and found guilty in a British court. His punishment was chemical castration after which he was found dead, an apparent suicide.
We're told from the beginning that Pink Milk is not a history play and the abundance of subjective and seductive theatrical conceits makes that very clear. Alex Paul Young has written a poetic, magical story loosely spun from Turing's life full of fantastic devices like talking daisies and hypodermic needles, robot boys and poison apples. Brandon Powers' direction helps spin Young's script into a magic spell. He gracefully composes the performers to interweave the often poetic dialogue with dance and movement. It all feels like a choreographed dream or fairy tale.
Visager's buoyant electronica score helps contextualize it as a contemporary play of attraction, creation and destruction. Unfortunately, because of noise regulations at the Gene Frankel, the music is played at a surprisingly low level. The play does not seem to suffer much, though, since the performances are not likewise subdued.
The exuberance of the young cast is palpable and contagious. It's an expressive, committed ensemble and each performer gives physical truth to their varied and often whimsical characters. Joe McManus as Alan is the emotional center and fragile heart of Pink Milk's world. He plays Alan with an innocent curiosity that is compellingly optimistic and so likable that the audience is left not caring whether this character is an "accurate" portrayal of the important figure, Alan Turing. Matt Moynihan movingly supports as Christopher, Alan's "maybe lover." It doesn't matter if Turing and Christopher Morcom were actually lovers, these performances breathe such life into them that the audience wants them to be together. It's all unexpected from a play inspired by the father of computer science.
Despite the musicality and beauty evoked by Pink Milk it's also a tragedy about the destruction of a man by the very state he served. The irony makes the effects of Alan's torture even more unendurable. As the play portrays chemical castration it's as cruel and unusual a torture as the name implies. Pink Milk is evocative enough to make its audience consider how laws are sometimes used to bully those different from them.
I knew very little about Alan Turing before seeing this play but it was more than I needed to be moved by this imaginatively lyric and thought-provoking experience. The audience may not leave Pink Milk knowing the historic figure Alan Turing any better but they will know Alan, the brief shining human. It's an emotional and just tribute.