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Theatre review: Pink Milk at Garage Theatre

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Lysander Xanthus (Christopher, below) and Nick Rapp (Alan, above) in Pink Milk at the Garage Theatre

Lysander Xanthus (Christopher, below) and Nick Rapp (Alan, above) in Pink Milk at the Garage Theatre

Heidi Nye
Culture Writer

A red, juicy apple is the sole prop. A decrepit trellised gazebo ringed in rocks and dried leaves is the extent of the stage design. No matter. Pink Milk, playing at the Garage Theatre through Nov. 1, is well worth seeing for its superb acting, innovative writing and meaty themes.
The play is loosely based on the life of Alan Turing, British mathematician, cryptanalyst, pioneer in computer science and artificial intelligence, and philosopher. Churchill credited him with making the most significant single contribution to defeating the Nazis due to his code-breaking of intercepted messages about major battle plans. Playwright Ariel Zetina (formerly known as Alex Paul Young), however, is not so much interested in an historical but a psychological, metaphoric and often fantastical rendering of Turing’s life.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the performance is the importance given to objects, played by people. Hence, the dearth of props. Lottie Frick is milk writhing with an infectious disease as well as a daisy that is part secret playmate, part lover and part muse for Alan, played by the angel-faced Nick Rapp. Frick, too, is a hypodermic needle, both seductive and sinister. The Authority Figures of general and professor are played by the tight-mini-skirted Maribella Magana, who also serves as a missile launcher during one of the battle scenes. At one point, she advises Alan: “Relax. Go hunting. Have a gin and tonic.” Hardly fitting for the poetic and sensitive soul he is.

Matthew Vincent Julian as The Experiments is an evolving, or devolving, series of robots. Playwright Zetina, who was present at opening night, said that, though the real Turing didn’t design robots, they seemed an apt means of conveying the progression of his accomplishments from the whimsical and idiosyncratic to the practical and mechanistic. Common themes throughout the play are Turing’s unwillingness to accept convention and most everyone else’s opinion that his work is ridiculous and serves no purpose, specifically, it doesn’t further the war effort.

Alan’s father (Craig Johnson) is Alan’s biggest critic. Johnson seems cut from the mold of hyper-authoritarian, uber-masculine father who demeans his latently and, later, openly gay son. He says such choice and totally clueless things as, “Are you going to give him weapons?” referring to Alan’s beloved robot. Or: “I want to teach you how to hunt.” A man whose power clearly comes from his gun. He is paired with equally stereotypically doting mother Blair Allison, who fusses terribly over her only child. One wonders how poor, little Alan can breathe.

Johnson, ironically and, oh, so appropriately, also plays Alan’s bad boy lover. Though on the face of it, these roles may seem worlds apart, both men do great damage to Alan. They are cut from the same cloth, though if they had met, nothing but hatred would have passed between them.

Just as the ethereal Rapp is perfectly cast as the head-in-the-clouds Alan, so too is his first lover, Christopher, played by the buff, pony-tailed Lysander Xanthus. The pas de deux that pepper Pink Milk are stunning, as all these fine actors are equally gifted dancers. The ones between Rapp and Xanthus, though, are truly remarkable. The intimacy between them is so palpable that audience members are left wondering, “Is such closeness possible in this world? Does it exist off stage?”

Such beauty between two men is all the more poignant when we are brought back to the reality of Turing’s life. In 1952, he was convicted of homosexuality and given a choice of sentences: prison or a year of estrogen injections to still his libido. Though this spells the beginning of a tragic end to a brilliant life, it would be a mistake to see Pink Milk solely as the tale of an oppressed gay man. Certainly, any young person, gay or straight, who talked to flowers and hung out with a robot would be ostracized by his peers and looked askance by adults. The story of Alan Turing speaks to all those who are misunderstood and thereby rejected by their society for seeing the world from a slightly different point of view.

Pink Milk continues at the Garage Theatre through Saturday, Nov. 1. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm. Doors open at 7:30pm. Tickets are: $18 for general admission; $15 for seniors, students and teachers; and $20 for closing night. Thursdays are 2-for-1 (general ticket price only; use promo code TWOFER). Tickets may be purchased online at thegaragetheatre.org or at the box office 30 minutes prior to performance. The Garage Theatre is located at 251 E. 7th St.

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Theatre review: Pink Milk at Garage Theatre