THE LIFE & DEATH(S) OF ALAN TURING
Chicago Opera Theater
DIRECTOR Peter Rothstein | SCENERY Benjamin Olsen | COSTUME Nora Marlow Smith | LIGHTING Paul Whitaker | PROJECTIONS Anthony Churchill | PROPERTIES Ivy Treccani & Mariah Bennett | PHOTOS Michael Brosilow
"Benjamin Olsen’s clever design placed the chorus in an aerie above the playing area, masked by a scrim that provided a projection surface for the “chat cloud” words; below, director Peter Rothstein marshaled his cast amid changing set elements like Turing’s code-breaking machine, his bed, and his poison-littered kitchen table. Nora Marlow Smith’s costumes evoked the period; Paul Whitaker’s lighting enhanced the story’s ominous mood."
Heidi Waleson, The Wall Street Journal
"With decidedly modern music by Justine F. Chen and a libretto by David Simpatico, the production, directed by Peter Rothstein, featured a strong cast and an excellent orchestra conducted by COT’s ever adventurous music director, Lidiya Yankovskaya. Adding to the drama was a chorus that hovered over designer Benjamin Olsen’s set and served as witness to Turing’s life, which was marked by both his brilliant abstract thinking and intense emotional pain."
Hedy Weiss, WTTW Chicago
"The transitions between [scenes] are signaled by what [composer Justine F. Chen] calls “chat clouds”—“a sonic approximation of internet chatter” that makes inventive use of the chorus and visual projections that are an important part of the set. I’m not a big fan of the now commonplace use of projections as set components (or substitutes), but in this production—directed by Peter Rothstein, with scenic design that evokes the digital world by architect Benjamin Olsen, and projections by Anthony Churchill—they are astutely employed."
Deanna Isaacs, Chicago Reader
The “Life & Death(s) of Alan Turing” indicts the twin institutions of church and state that ordained and sanctioned the persecution of homosexuality in England.
As both a memory play and a fantasia, with a legible ABACAD format, this piece calls for a fixed surround to frame a dynamic playing space where the action happens. The onlooking chorus activates during transitions, while the principal book scenes play out in various settings defined by furniture and hand props. The entire stage picture needs to shift cinematically, so we have enlisted digital projection to transform the base set with imagery and graphics.
As part of this piece’s innovative structure, the set needs to accommodate the 28 voice chorus onstage for the entire evening. Solving for the chorus led us to conceive of the container as a choir loft or gallery.
Our first two references were Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster — spaces of institutional authority and judgement that typify English morality and propriety. We are interested in how the chorus of this piece presides over the evening, in a way similar to both the choristers of the Anglican Church and the ministers of Parliament.
But while direct in their references, these two spaces did not evoke all the qualities of this piece. We turned instead to Modernist versions of these same types — like Marcel Breuer's St. John's Abbey Church — to provide wonder and gravity and loneliness and delight. The modernist idiom also provides a spare background for the free-association of imagery that is prompted by the text.
One of my favorite designers, Jon Bausor, says that stage space is special because something onstage can have the quality of something else. To this end, we’ve tried to capture and overlay the aesthetic qualities of military machines and technological devices onto these institutional spaces.
Finally, we are telling a color story that draws a connection between Alan’s mind, the machines he invents, and his proud identity as a gay man. The entire show is rendered in grayscale except for those elements that come from Alan himself. Alan’s final death - transfiguration - transforms the stage, indeed the entire hall, with color.