Oh, those Brits, with their childish fixation on nursery school traumas. Not even Alan Turing, the computer visionary and math genius who helped break Germany’s secret intelligence codes in World War II, is allowed his dignity. In Snoo Wilson’s otherwise decent bio-drama, “Lovesong of the Electric Bear,” Turing is plucked from his deathbed by his childhood teddy bear and made to relive his life in its extremely loquacious company. Although Wilson’s literate script is given a nimble production by the Potomac Theater Project, the whimsical treatment reduces a brilliant career (if an unhappy life) to child’s play.
Set designer Christina Galvez takes a perfectly reasonable cue from the text and frames the fantasy in what appears to be some kind of tacky carnival midway. But while the strings of colored lights brighten the darker aspects of the scientist’s lonely life, the surreal setting doesn’t legitimize the intrusive Porgy Bear, who is amiably played by Tara Giordano in a cute bear suit — but oh, such a pest.
As might be expected in a play about an unhappy genius who killed himself before he was 40, the emotional emphasis falls heavily on the burdens that Turing (casually brainy and entirely likeable, in Alex Draper’s persuasive perf) had to bear as a browbeaten child and socially awkward adult. Among those heavy crosses: his hypercritical mother (Nina Silver, a proper tyrant) and distant father (Alex Cranmer, a real pill) who made him feel like a worm, the nasty schoolboys who tormented him for his naivety, the trashy male lovers who took advantage of his conflicted sexuality and the court-appointed doctors who casually contributed to his psychic pain by chemically castrating him.
Wilson does spare some attention — but not nearly enough — for the scientific mind that worked on the Colossus decoder at Bletchley Park and envisioned a computer so small it could fit into a shoebox. Draper positively lights up whenever his essentially passive character has a chance to concentrate on something meaty like a computer program for artificial intelligence or the Turing Test he devised to determine whether any computer could ever put something over its human operator.
For their part, helmer Cheryl Faraone and her efficient design team make responsible efforts to project visual suggestions of the intangible “temple of numbers” where Turing lived whenever he was allowed to turn his mind away from the real world. But not even the Universal Turing Machine stirs their theatrical blood like the mathematician’s visit to a drag show in a gay nightclub.
The fatal flaw, though, is Wilson’s, who is obviously more taken with Turing as victim than Turing as mathematical genius — and more enamored of that damned talking teddy bear than all the machines that owe their very existence to one very sad, but blazingly gifted man.