Chicago Theatre Review
Dance, Art, Science, and Some Catchy Music
Oracle Theatre’s Pink Milk
In the first couple minutes of Pink Milk, a play about the life of Alan Turing performed by Oracle Productions in association with White Elephant, the actors say that this isn’t going to be a history lesson. The play is more of an interpretation of what Alan Turing’s life might have felt like. It verges on an experimental play, heavy with dance, original electronic music, and actors portraying abstract representations of ideas. And it is enthralling. Everything about this performance fit together like a clockwork machine. Even though sometimes the liberties the production took with Turing’s life were a little sappy, it did not bother me in the slightest by the end.
If you do not know, Alan Turing is the father of the modern computer. He strove to create machines that could think for themselves, though he never created a true artificial intelligence. His machines helped decipher enemy codes during World War II and he was charged and convicted for homosexuality in the mid-1950s. Pink Milk focuses on filling the gaps of what is known of Turing’s life. Central to the play is the possible love affair Turing had in his teenage years with another boy named Christopher Morcom. The play does a wonderful job of teasing out this relationship, and making it a continual part of what effects Turing throughout the rest of his lifetime.
Alan Turing is played by Aaron Stephenson, and Stephenson’s shift from the enthusiastic childhood Alan to the Alan at the end of his life when the world has almost literally beaten him down is a moving experience. All of the cast play their multiple parts very well, shifting from parent to lover to persecutor seamlessly. Cole Doman plays Christopher Morcom is great, and even after his character has left Alan’s life, he doesn’t play any other roles. Doman often sits hauntingly to the side as Alan faces many obstacles in his life. Doman also narrates the piece as Morcom, as if the character felt responsible for sharing the Alan he briefly knew. Fairly straight scenes flow in and out of choreographed dance moments and shift quickly into descriptive monologues or seemingly unconnected strings of words. The ensemble works as a whole, each supporting the other even when they are only silent observers.
The sound and the lighting designs for this production were wonderful pieces of art in themselves, but also helped to make the whole piece better. The lighting, designed by Jessica Carson, always managed to heighten the emotion of a moment. The sound was an original score created by Visager, a music producer/composer/performer working out of Brooklyn, New York that specializes in electronic music that samples field recordings, acoustic instruments, old videos, and more. The music from the production can be found at visager.bandcamp.com. In addition, the scenic and props were designed by Emma Pardini and the costumes were designed by Cassie Bowers. Both elements were simple and elegant in their execution.
The play is the work of playwright Alex Paul Young, a founding member of White Elephant Theatre. The play has been staged a number of times prior to this run, being part of a couple of exhibitions on the part of White Elephant and also being part of the New York City and Chicago Fringe Festivals. Oracle Productions has taken the play on as part of its B-Side series, continuing their mission of public access theatre. That means that this exquisite performance can be enjoyed for free by all. A slight word of caution if you have a physical disability, this small theatre sports bleacher type seating for their audience, so if you would like to appreciate it without climbing up steps with no railing, you should ask the theatre to reserve floor seats for you if possible.
Pink Milk, excellently directed and choreographed by Brandon Powers, may not be Shakespeare or Neil Simon type storytelling, but it is a fun, yet heartbreaking look at the life of a man who didn’t understand why the world had to make things so difficult. Whether or not they accurately depicted the life of Alan Turing didn’t really matter. The production expresses some beautiful sentiments about being misunderstood, science and art, and the joys of finding someone or something that can help you make sense of the world.
Reviewed by Clare Kosinski
Oracle Productions in association with White Elephant presents Pink Milk
Playing August 10 – September 7 at Oracle Theatre, 3809 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL.
Admission is free but reservations can be made by visiting publicaccesstheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions may be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.