Review: ‘Pink Milk’ at Single Carrot Theatre

“Those who can imagine anything can create the impossible.” – Alan Turing

For its final production in its Remington home, Single Carrot Theatre presents the Regional Premiere of Pink Milk. Written by playwright Ariel Zetina, who was in the audience opening night, and skillfully directed by Single Carrot ensemble member Ben Kleymeyer, Pink Milk is an empathetic, imaginative look at the life of Alan Turing.

Benairen Kane as Arnold and Mohammad R. Suaidi as Alan in 'Pink Milk' at Single Carrot Theatre. Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker.
Benairen Kane as Arnold and Mohammad R. Suaidi as Alan in ‘Pink Milk’ at Single Carrot Theatre. Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker.

At the top of the show, Christopher Morcom (Isaiah Harvey), warns, “If you think this is going to be a history lesson, you’ve come to the wrong place.” While the play does not offer a typically biographical account of Turing’s life or his exceptional accomplishments, it does provide an overview of the major events of his life from an emotional level. The play has a psychedelic, dreamlike quality. We witness lauded milestones – mathematician Turing’s groundbreaking contributions to computer science; the Turing Machine; his cryptanalytic work at Bletchley Park that broke the German Enigma Code (a feat that has been estimated to have shortened World War II in Europe by over two years, saving more than 14 million lives) – but not in a literal sense.

Likewise, we observe his personal life – the tense relationship with his father; young love for Christopher Morcom; his brief engagement to fellow Bletchley cryptoanalyst Joan Clarke; and his at-the-time illegal homosexual relationship with Arnold Murray, which tragically led to Turing’s arrest, chemical castration, and ultimate death by self-administered cyanide poisoning. All these things, the terrific and the tragic, occur as if we’re experiencing them from inside Alan Turing’s subconscious. It is, of course, speculative, but Zetina’s speculations (a) seem reasonable and (b) provide an overall experience that is powerful and poignant.

With the exception of Mohammad R. Suaidi, who is a pleasure to watch as Alan, the actors each play multiple parts. Isaiah Harvey, who adeptly plays Christopher, also serves as a kind of narrator. Benairen Kane portrays both Arnold and Snow White, cleverly metaphorical doubling since Arnold, beautiful and shiny young, was himself like a poison apple to Alan. The balance of the characters, instead of being specifically named, represent classes of people/things. Meghan Stanton is The Mothers, Lauren Jackson portrays The Inanimate Objects (and, also, Joan), Paul Diem is The Experiments, and Christian Gonzalez plays The Authority Figures.

Typical of this theater, there wasn’t a weak performance in the house. Among the standouts from base-level Carrot awesomeness is Christian Gonzalez. When we meet young Alan, he is brilliant and playful, and already misunderstood. Gonzalez’s The Authority Figures, with their rigid posture and clipped, authoritarian speech, start in on him early to conform; they relentlessly continue throughout his life as his dad, teachers, bosses, generals, etc. who want Turing to use his considerable genius for their priorities: weaponry and the war effort. Also notable is Paul Diem as The Experiments, my favorite of which is a robot whose enthusiasm for learning Diem manifests like the smartest, most eager Springer Spaniel ever. And Lauren Jackson, as The Inanimate Objects, makes me glad that the beleaguered Alan could perhaps find joy in the simple beauty of a daisy. The gold star that shines the brightest, though, is the superbly-cast Mohammad R. Suaidi. Transitioning seamlessly between the “real life” sequences interwoven with the more fantastical or fanciful scenes, Suaidi maintains Alan’s sense of wide-eyed sweetness and curiosity even as the world that had embraced him as a bona fide hero turns against him simply because he’s gay. It’s heartbreaking, and rightly so.

Lauren Jackson as The Inanimate Objects, Isaiah Harvey as Christopher, and Meghan Stanton as The Mothers in 'Pink Milk' at Single Carrot Theatre. Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker.
Lauren Jackson as The Inanimate Objects, Isaiah Harvey as Christopher, and Meghan Stanton as The Mothers in ‘Pink Milk’ at Single Carrot Theatre. Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker.

In addition to Director Ben Kleymeyer, Pink Milk‘s Production and Design team includes Technical Director Jeremey Weinstein, Sound Engineer Matthew Reid, and a talented bunch of badass women: Dramaturg Abigail Cady; Choreographer Valerie Branch; quite possibly the best stage manager in Baltimore, Kate Lynch; Assistant Stage Manager Cydney Cohn; Lighting Designer Cheryl J. Williams; Sound Designer (and Playwright) Ariel Zetina, who created a bold new score for the piece; Costume Designer Susan MacCorkle; Props Designer Mika J. Nakano; and Set Designer Allison Campbell.

Particularly impressive are MacCorkle’s costumes, Branch’s choreography, and Campbell’s set. Each cast member has a base costume that’s a 1970s Bee Gees-vibing jumpsuit with sewn-on flowers; each jumpsuit is a different color, with the sewn-on flower pattern unique to that jumpsuit. Simple additions like hats or a jacket visibly transform doubling actors into their next role, distinguishing them pretty easily from whoever they were a moment ago. The easy-moving costumes not only fit perfectly with the psychedelic, innerspace motif, they are also necessarily functional. That’s because this production of Pink Milk is so highly choreographed and synchronized, at times it seems like a movement piece with language, which actually feels really appropriate. Dreams are not linear. They jump from thing to thing and images are metaphorical and representative. Branch’s movement scenes felt purposeful, not gratuitous.

Similarly supporting the movement component of the show, Campbell’s well-conceived and executed set leaves the majority of the floor space clear. The all-white stage is surrounded by a barrier resembling a hockey rink, and there’s seating on three sides. Along the back wall are many drawers and cupboards and secret doors and portholes high up. I never really thought about it before, but now I’m pretty sure it’s what my brain looks like inside. In Alan’s brain, everything is a whiteboard, set and audience barrier walls alike. Sometimes you need to write stuff down, especially when you’re a genius who is always thinking.

After five years at their North Howard Street location, the Carrots are taking their show on the road, planning future productions as site-specific and/or experiential offerings like their wildly popular Promenade, in which the audience rode a bus and the actors performed scenes at locations throughout the city (a production which remains one of my favorite theater experiences anywhere). From their beginnings as a group of University of Colorado theatre students who selected Baltimore after a nationwide search for a suitable arts-on-the-upswing home, to their relocation from their former spot to the North Howard Street home they’re preparing to leave, Single Carrot Theatre has remained mindful about operating in a way that consistent with its evolving mission, and has altered course when appropriate. I appreciate Single Carrot’s commitment to creating impactful, socially relevant art and look forward to supporting them as they utilize nontraditional spaces and bring their work to audiences where they are.

Ariel Zetina’s Pink Milk is a fitting final show for Single Carrot Theatre’s Remington venue. It’s the kind of brave, meaningful, experimental fare that has made Single Carrot an award-winning asset to the Baltimore theater community. Despite using fanciful and sometimes whimsical means of expressing his story, Pink Milk treats the tragic life of Alan Turing with dignity and understanding. The excellent actors and top-notch production and design team at Single Carrot do justice to Zetina’s innovative script, making the whole experience immersive, odd, and altogether engaging.

Running Time: Approximately one hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.

Pink Milk plays through May 19, 2019, at Single Carrot Theatre – 2600 North Howard Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (443) 884-9253, or purchase them online.

NOTES:

  • Strobe lights are used.
  • Don’t be late; you won’t be seated after curtain.
  • A bit over halfway through, a confetti cannon goes off. It is very loud.