by Christine Cayer
Robert Bauer has been waiting for 25 years to direct “Breaking the Code,” the powerful play by Hugh Whitemore about British codebreaker Alan Turing, running May 1-16 at the Allens Lane Art Center’s theater. Turing and his team of brilliant mathematicians worked at Bletchley Park in Great Britain during WWII and ultimately cracked the German’s Enigma code, in the process shortening WWII and saving countless lives.
“Alan Turing’s story is amazing,” said Bauer. “I saw ‘Breaking the Code’ in 1990 and immediately started wondering how I might stage it differently were I to direct it. It’s a monster of a play with many scene changes and time periods. I am a very visual person, and I just could not see how to do it.”
That is, until Bauer directed “When the Rain Stops Falling” at Allens Lane two years ago. It was the first time that Bauer, 73, of Germantown, had directed at Allens Lane, and “I had an epiphany, I could see the play on the Allens Lane stage.” Besides the standard proscenium, the Allens Lane stage has side wings which can be used to stage “self-contained” scenes different from what is happening on the main part of the stage.
That’s why Robert is directing the play at Allens Lane instead of on the stage at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, used by The Drama Group, a Germantown institution that Robert helped found and has been involved with for 35 years. “I envisioned it, sketched it out (Robert is a retired graphic designer) and pitched it to the Allens Lane Theater committee just over a year ago. I was thrilled when it was selected.”
Robert’s reputation and experience preceded him. He’s directed 27 plays in his 35-year career. He also designs all of the sets and most of the costumes for his productions. His acting credentials are no less impressive, having acted in nearly as many productions, including several professional ones at such theaters as the Arden, the Wilma and Mt. Airy’s Quintessence. Robert does it all. “I love every aspect of theater,” he says. It’s hard to believe that this man was once, in his words, “painfully shy.”
Little did Robert or anyone on the Allens Lane Theater committee know then that “The Imitation Game,” a film based on the biography of Alan Turing by Andrew Hodges, “Alan Turing: the Enigma,” the same bio that was the basis for “Breaking the Code,” would be released to great acclaim in late 2014. The film, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, went on to be nominated for Oscars for best picture and best lead actor.
The play, first staged in London in 1986, starring renowned British actor Derek Jacobi, is quite different from “The Imitation Game.” Robert explained, “The movie focuses on the war and the time at Bletchley Park.” After the war Turing was arrested and charged with “gross indecency” for his homosexual relationship with a young man, an arrest he paid dearly for. This part of Turing’s life accounts for only a minor part of the film. “In the play, the young man ultimately responsible for his arrest is a main character, whereas he is never seen in the film. In the film, Turing’s mother is never seen, but she is a main character in the play.”
Robert is thrilled that his “good, good, good friend,” Carole Mancini, is playing the role of Turing’s mother. Carole was just in Allens Lane’s “The Lady from Dubuque” by Edward Albee, “Carole is British, and it so happens that her father worked at Bletchley during the war. How’s that for a coincidence?” Robert says. Carole will also double as dialect coach for the other six actors in “Breaking,” some of whom speak “proper” English and others who speak working class English.
Carole was in “When the Rain Stops Falling,” Robert’s previous directorial turn at Allens Lane, as was Dante Zappala (also a Local columnist), who will play the role of Alan Turing. A crucial behind-the-scenes common denominator of any Robert Bauer production is his “rock,” wife Sandy Clay Bauer, valued for her cookies sold during shows at The Drama Group productions as well as her theatrical and artistic skills.
What’s next for this spry septuagenarian? Robert is directing The Drama Group’s fall production, “Prelude to a Kiss,” by Craig Lucas. Meanwhile, he keeps his resume updated, always looking for the next acting or directing opportunity. He’ll have to switch to a smaller font, however, if he wants to fit much more on the page.
An aside: Riding on the popularity of “The Imitation Game,” a recently discovered key scientific manuscript of Turing’s is coming up for auction and is expected to fetch at least $1 million. For more information, visit allenslane.org or call 215-248-0546.
Christine Cayer, a resident of Glenside, is a long-time Allens Lane Art Center theater subscriber.