by Dante Zappala
Alan Turing had a lot to say; at least according to the playwright Hugh Whitemore. In the play, “Breaking the Code,” Turing the character has several multi-page monologues. He giddily explains mathematical theory to a potential employer. He takes cheap shots at religion and intellectuals while explaining artificial intelligence to a gathering of high schoolers.
Tasked with playing this part and learning all of these monologues and the countless other lines of dialogue, I became pretty fed up with Turing and all of his musings. “Couldn’t you just calm down and keep it short?” I found myself asking the long dead mathematician. I spent many train rides on the Chestnut Hill West line inviting curious stares as I recited lines in a barely audible whisper.
But we are performing the entire play as written at the Allens Lane Art Center. And, really, it’s all relevant. Everything the character says contributes to the subject matter and the themes of the play.
Learning the lines was a chore. I honestly believed that my brain had deteriorated and it would be impossible. Now, a week into the run, the lines are crisp and present. I feel very much in control.
This is a welcome transition to the rehearsal process where I felt so vulnerable that the smallest distractions would bring me to a halt. I ultimately had no choice but to trust my director, who kept saying, “It will come together – it always does.”
It was an interesting juxtaposition preparing for this during marathon training. For one thing, Turing was a dedicated runner himself. He clearly had a high pressure job so he trained intensely as a release. I am not trying to win a war, but the job-kids-life routine does drive one to look for escapes.
The long runs should have been a great time to run lines in my head, but they were usually filled with that somewhat indescribable nothingness that is the treasure of runners. One account has Turing inventing the computer while on a run. This validates my idea that nothingness is the key ingredient of profound thought.
I imagine Turing might have understood my doubts during the training period, as well as the rehearsal process, that it would actually all come together.
The constant building up with almost no unwinding, with no evidence that it’s contributing to anything, leaves one with only faith as an ally. Turing was most certainly a nonbeliever in religious terms, but he was fanatically adamant about the concept of an “electronic brain” and that a computer would one day mimic human thought patterns. On the flip side, he wasn’t so sure he’d ever break the Enigma and went as far as burying lumps of silver as a hedge against losing the war.
From a combination of obsession, investment and a pure belief in outcomes, he was able to achieve his goals. Identifying with this guy was never the problem. Learning to speak like him and say all the words the playwright supposes he said, well, that was a different story.
Yet the processes we subscribe to are generally there for a reason. They have worked before and we assume they will work again. We submit to them and we trust. We bury our doubts and do the work.
In the end, it did come together for me. I was happy with my time at Boston. But the biggest payoff came two weeks later at the Broad Street Run. Though I hadn’t done much race specific work, I was recovered just enough from the marathon to let it rip. Unlike the marathon, I felt in absolute control and command during those 10 miles. With the training already under my belt, I only needed to sense that this was a great opportunity. I went out fast and trusted that I was in shape to finish what I started.
As we go into the final week of the play, I hope the same is true. The lines are there. What was foreign a month ago is automatic. Rehearsals won’t help at this point. What matters is being present and prepared for the moments as they appear. This is when the good surprises happen and they can be turned into something special, something memorable.
It turns out that my time at Boston was two minutes faster than Turing’s best at the same distance. After months of wrestling with this guy, I finally thought I had something on him.
But after running Broad Street, I learned his best for 10 miles is a good minute faster than my own. Apparently, conquering this character completely will have to happen sometime after the next build up, when this run is long over.