'Breaking the Code'

In 2002, the BBC conducted a poll in the United Kingdom to ask the public who it considered to be the 100 greatest Britons in all of history. Winston Churchill was voted No. 1, Charles Darwin was No. 4, but Alan Turing was No. 21.

Ashland Contemporary Theatre, formerly Ashland Community Theatre, will present English playwright Hugh Whitemore's "Breaking the Code," a portrayal of the life of Alan Turing, the eccentric genius who broke the German's Enigma code during World War II.

"Breaking the Code" will be ACT's first full-length production since "Taking Sides," which debuted in October 2007 at the Ashland Elks and was reprised at the Havurah Shir Hadash in Ashland in March 2008.

ACT artistic director Jeannine Grizzard first saw "Breaking the Code" when it opened in London in 1986, starring Sir Derek George Jacobi, who had not been knighted at that time. Grizzard said the performance really affected her, so when ACT began discussing what production to feature this year, "Breaking the Code" came to mind.

"We knew we had to do something that I had a strong affinity for and a passion for, and this play emerged in my mind," says Grizzard.

The play opens Friday, June 11, at Ashland's Bellview Grange, 1050 Tolman Creek Road, and runs through Saturday, July 3, with performances set for 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays and at 2 p.m. Sundays.

"This is a suspenseful drama about the breaking of the Enigma code and the breaking of the social code," says Grizzard.

The show is really a one-man show, starring Bob Brazeau as Alan Turing, with six other characters, she says.

"Bob totally carries this show," Grizzard says. "He's a credible genius and that's really hard to come off with ... Bob has the quirkiness and the sensitivity to convey imaginative genius."

When his beloved friend Christopher Morcom died when he was just 16, Turing made it his life's ambition to achieve something great, which turned out to be artificial intelligence. A great mathematician, Turing worked with a team of code-breakers and cryptanalysts at Bletchley Park to decipher the German's Enigma code during World War II. While there, he invented a electromechanical decryption device that broke the German's "unbreakable" Enigma code.

"The reason Alan broke the code is because he invented a machine that could make millions of guesses about the settings of the Enigma machine, and it could make those guesses so fast and eliminate the wrong ones," says Grizzard.

Turing came up with the concept that a machine could carry out any task that could be described in symbols. After the war, he became one of the first pioneers of the modern computer through his work at the University of Manchester. In 1945, he was awarded MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) status.

In 1952, his house was burglarized. Through a "secret" source, he revealed who the burglar was. When detectives pressed him to disclose his source, he revealed that it was his lover, Ron Miller. Turing was cited for gross indecency.

Turing committed suicide on June 7, 1954, at the age of 42. Many theories surround the cause of his death.

Besides Brazeau, the cast includes Sunshine Bucy as Ron Miller, Turing's love interest; Shayne Lancaster as Christopher Morcom, Turing's childhood friend; Urban Kohler as Mick Ross, a detective investigating the burglary and Turing's gross indecency charge; Dennis Nicomede as John Smith, the voice of the government and MI5 official; David Mannix as Dillwyn Knox, chief code-breaker; Emma Wilkinson as Pat Green, a colleague; and Ann Wilton as Sara Turing, Turing's mother.

Tickets cost $15, $12 for students and seniors and may be reserved online at ashlandcommunitytheatre.org or by calling 541-646-2971. Tickets also are available at Paddington Station, 125 E. Main St., Ashland, and the Grocery Outlet, 35 E. Stewart Ave., Medford.

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