2012 marks the centennial anniversary of the birth of British mathematician, Alan Turing, widely acknowledged today as the father of the computer. Internationally it has been dubbed Alan Turing Year, and Olympic torch bearers stopped before a commemorative statue of him on route to the London stadium in tribute to an, as yet, little recognized giant in the history of technological advancement. Winston Churchill opined that Turing’s decryption device helped to end WWII years earlier than might otherwise have been achieved. Turing’s life story, however, is a singularly harsh tragedy. A homosexual, in 1952 he was convicted of gross indecency with another man, and compelled to take female hormones as a therapeutic treatment for his “criminal” deviance, a procedure widely referred to as chemical castration. Just two years later he was found dead in his bed due to cyanide poisoning.
Alex Paul Young‘s theatrical piece, Pink Milk, is a highly personal, impressionistic work – a mash up of contemporary gay themes and biographical details from Turing’s life. Fueled by a righteous outrage and abandoned to a fantastical world of make believe, it dispenses with any sense of historical, cultural, or scientific accuracy, to present a free-form poetic narrative fused with dance and music. It’s an odd departure point from which to explore the life of a celebrated logician and mathematician, but that’s not all that’s odd about it. Young’s Turing, as a boy, develops a robotic playmate that runs on apples. In real life, the adult Turing was enraptured by Disney’s animated film, Snow White. Apples – plastic white ones and natural red ones – denote the stage boundaries, and actors regularly bite into one together as an indication of shared understanding. As a boy Alan is shown to be distracted by daisies growing on playing fields, and these engage him in life and death discussions. A glass of milk is another personified character, and the Pink Milk of the title is a somewhat strained symbol of tainted motherhood – both bloodied breast milk and TB-infected cow’s milk. Despite what grown-ups think or say, logic does not apply in young Alan’s world. Young’s unruly script, rendered in a somewhat textureless blank verse, gallops along on a dizzy note of abandoned self-indulgence. Its utter whimsicality can be hard to swallow.
What it does have going for it though is a relentless strangeness, a bold insistence on its own terms. The cheap sense of fatalism and overwrought lyricism are suddenly disrupted by a break out of music and synchronized ensemble dancing. The actors huddle in a group as a clubby electronica pop permeates, and a staccato, mechanical choreography takes hold. Apropos nothing, rigid arm thrusting and stiff-necked twisting are enjoyed, and it’s clubland 1982 again. At once bizarrely appropriate, and yet inappropriate, these instances have a distinctive flair and contribute a signature with its own peculiar gravitas. The troupe of seven young performers are utterly down when it comes to these movement passages and the sequences are as compelling as they are perplexing.
It really is too bad for the play’s Chicago-based company, White Elephant, that they found themselves booked in to perform here at the Gene Frankel Theatre. Originally devised for a surrounded stage forum, the presentation suffers in Frankel’s compressed space and traditional stage-facing-audience format. Gamefully Elephant string a line of audience seats along the back and side walls of the performance area, but this doesn’t fully suffice as an answer. Worse still, the Frankel’s regulations regarding noise levels means the music is played at an absurdly low pitch during dance segments, as if an elderly relative were trying to sleep next door. Energy levels are impacted accordingly.
A hard working cast let none of this really stand in their way. Everyone gives it 100 percent, with stand-out contributions by Casey Hartley as “The Authority Figures”, and Joe McManus who, as Turing, struggles to put some humanity into an abstracted, romanticized central character. Young is very lucky in his cast, and perhaps even more so in the directorial hand of Brandon Powers, who propels all along at a headlong tilt with unpredictable turns. Powers is additionally credited as joint choreographer and, as such, it can safely be said that he’s helped save Pink Milk‘s bacon. The original, catchy, and entirely on point music is by Visager. Anyone looking for a mature reflection on the life and contribution of Alan Turing is advised to look elsewhere. But if intriguing performance, gay themes, and fantastical whimsy are your bag, you’ve come to the right place. Drink your milk.
Writer: Alex Young
Director: Brandon Powers
Choreographer: Brandon Powers & ensemble
Movement, nosebleeds, electronica, and a talking daisy. Lonely gay genius Alan Turing builds robots to replace his lost love. PINK MILK, inspired by the father of Computer Science, explodes themes of creation, destruction and eternal love.
1h 40m National Chicago, Illinois
Staycation: In Someone Else’s Shoes Ride the Rollercoaster of Love
VENUE #09: The Gene Frankel Theatre
Fri 10 @ 9 Sun 12 @ 4:15 Wed 15 @ 2 Sat 18 @ 9 Sun 19 @ 2