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One, One, Zero: A Review of Know Theatre’s “Ada and the Engine”

Review by Alan Jozwiak of Ada and the Engine: Know Theatre

01000001 01100100 01100001.

These are not random numbers, but binary code for the name “Ada,” the titular protagonist who appears in Know Theatre’s latest production Ada and the Engine.

Penned by Lauren Gunderson, who wrote the powerful and moving Silent Sky that Know Theatre produced in 2016, Ada and the Machine tells the story of Ada Lovelace (née Byron), who has to overcome the checkered past of her father, the scandalous poet Lord Byron.

Along way to respectability, she marries Lord Lovelace (Cary Davenport) and becomes close friend with Charles Babbage (Brian Griffin), who theorizes about a computational machine that ends up being the forerunner of the modern computer.

As much of a play of ideas as it is a bio play on the life of Ada Lovelace, Ada and the Machine is blessed with an outstanding cast. Tess Talbot is perfectly cast as Ada. Talbot is equal parts blazing intelligence and burning passion as the role of Ada, being more interesting in talking mathematics with Babbage than gaining social standing and reputation through her husband. This is one of Talbot’s best works yet for Know Theatre and is a real tour de force performance.

Brian Griffin delivers an equally powerful performance as Charles Babbage, perfectly capturing the essence of the character—a man overwhelming obsessed with his work who shows equal parts of ego and gentleness towards Ada. This was the best role I have ever seen Griffin deliver and it was delightful to see both him and Talbot on stage together. Both actors have great chemistry and work well off each other.

Rounding out the cast was Cary Davenport as Lord Lovelace and Annie Fitzpatrick as Ada’s mother Anne Isabelle Byron. Davenport plays the comic foil in this piece, allowing the audience to play along with his character’s ignorance. Similarly, Fitzpatrick does a nice job playing the widow of Lord Byron. She beautifully plays the prim and proper mother trying to steer her daughter to social respectability.

Playing on the machine motif within the play, director and scenic designer Andrew J, Hungerford the set has gears/machine parts stenciled on the floor, as well as having metal bar doors which swing to allow actors to enter and exit the stage. Metal panels also cover the back stage and end up being used to great effect at the end of the production.

Second, Hungerford added an interactive cell phone element by using Mosho, a app which played the song the actors were singing at the end of the show. I could not get the app to run on my cell phone, but this app shows promise for getting audience members more engaged in the show.

Ada and the Engine was a fascinating and riveting play full of witty banter, complex characters, and unfulfilled promises (Spoiler: Ada does not get a chance to see the engine created).

Go see this show (or in binary numbers) 01000111 01101111 00100000 01110011 01100101 01100101 00100000 01110100 01101000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01110011 01101000 01101111 01110111. For fans of Silent Sky, as well as those loving a strong theatrical production that makes you think, this is a must-see performance.

Ada and the Engine runs April 13 to May 12, 2018. For more information, please visit Know Theatre’s website https://knowtheatre.com/season-20/ada/.