Kevin Daugherty plays the gay man who saved the world in Theatre Southwest’s ‘Breaking the Code’
by Donalevan Maines
by Brett Chisolm Photography
Driving 120 miles round-trip to play Alan Turing is worth it, Galveston actor Kevin Daugherty says of his lead role in Breaking the Code at Theatre Southwest in Houston. If it wasn’t for the gay mathematician, Daugherty explains, “Bill Gates wouldn’t have a job.” We wouldn’t have word processors either, he adds, not because Turing invented computers but because he invented computer science.
Daugherty says that Turing also saved the world from Hitler and the Nazi Party by breaking the German Enigma code and deciphering German U-boat attack plans during World War II. But that didn’t count for anything when he was arrested for breaking a social code by revealing his homosexuality to a British constable in the 1950s, when it was outlawed in England. “Homosexuality was equated with Communism,” Daugherty explains, and Turing was pushed to the brink of suicide when the government pursued “gross indecency” charges against him.
“I play him as the wonderful man that he was,” he says. “He was intelligent, he was caring, and he just wanted to create. I’m not personally gay, but I see how this man was tormented because he happened to like men. I don’t understand how we as a society would allow this to happen.”
A year ago, Daugherty had never heard of Turing, but when Theatre Southwest announced Breaking the Code as part of its 2010–2011 season, Daugherty read up on the 1986 play by Hugh Whitemore. He learned that out actor Derek Jacobi played him to acclaim in London, on Broadway, and in a BBC production that was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award when it was broadcast in the United States on PBS.
“I wanted to play the part from the day I read about the role,” explains Daugherty, who traveled to Houston for both nights of auditions in February and is grateful that director Mimi Holloway took a chance on him by casting him. “Aside from what he did, which I want to honor, it’s just a phenomenal challenge to portray his feelings, and explore his friendships and flirtations and infatuations.”
The role also requires Daugherty to master a British dialect, and to stammer when he speaks. “It’s different than a stutter,” he says.
Daugherty, 47, was born in Ohio but migrated to Texas with his family in 1976 “as everybody else did,” he says. In his junior year at Ball High School in Galveston, he suffered a knee injury in football when he got hit from the left side while punting. “I couldn’t move my knee laterally,” he explains, so he was sent to ballet class for treatment. “I was a natural. It was easy.”
He got a scholarship to perform with Houston Ballet. It was extended another year, followed by a scholarship at Arlington Dance Center in Virginia.
After returning home, Daugherty performed for 10 years as Galveston Ballet’s principal dancer, starring in Romeo & Juliet, Le Corsaire, Don Quixote, and Swan Lake.
His foray into acting began with a small part in the musical 1776 at what was the Strand Street Theatre. In rehearsals, he flubbed what few lines he had. “They took them away,” he recalls. “That taught me to learn my lines.”
Some years later, after Daugherty helped found Island ETC (the east-end theatre company) in Galveston, he redeemed himself by playing John Adams in 1776. It’s just one of many lead roles he’s played at ETC, from George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Katurian in The Pillowman to musical showcases such as Bobby in Company and Emcee in Cabaret. “That was my most androgynous role,” says Daugherty. “I wore as little as possible. Yeah, a thong. He wasn’t gay or bisexual, he was tri-sexual. He went with the flow—whatever it takes. He was not straight in any sense.”
When OutSmart spoke with Daugherty in March, he was opening a Starbucks café in Galveston at 5 a.m., working there until 9:30 a.m., going to etc. to build the set for its production of Little Shop of Horrors, then driving to Houston to rehearse the role of Alan Turing for three-and-a-half hours at Theatre Southwest.
“Thus far, it’s been a wonderful experience,” he says, eager to open the show and share his knowledge and insight into Alan Turing with audiences who might never have heard of him.
What: Breaking the Code
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, April 8–30, with a 3 p.m. matinee on
Sunday, April 17
Where: Theatre Southwest, 8944-A Clarkcrest, between Westheimer and
Richmond off Fondren
Tickets/info: Use the reservation form at theatresouthwest.org (no pre-payment
is required), e-mail [email protected]
west.org, or phone 713/661-9505.
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.