Who was the first “modern” woman? Lots of candidates, but surely an overlooked nominee is Ada Byron Lovelace. The daughter of Romantic poet and cad Lord Byron and a key to the invention of computers and programming, she was a complicated woman living perhaps a bit too far ahead of her time.
Ada and the Engine, the Lauren Gunderson play that is making its regional premiere at Stage West, takes these materials and makes a good, entertaining case that Ada was far more than just an inquisitive mathematician whose father “had a past.”
Ada’s interest in science and math was encouraged by her mother, Annabella, who makes no bones that her daughter should be as unlike her infamous father as possible. No matter, hopeless romantic Ada still tried to run away with a tutor.
But Ada does fall in love, with mathematics and even more so with a concept by scientist and inventor Charles Babbage that will lead to a “thinking machine,” and eventually a computer. Ada and Babbage have a complicated relationship, to say the least, but Ada eventually agrees to marry a more suitable match, Lord Lovelace, who might be considered a bit of a bore. He was certainly no Ada.
The play requires some compelling actors and the Stage West version of the play, under the direction of Emily Scott Banks, has plenty. Kelsey Milbourn plays Ada with plenty of energy and charisma. Steven Pounders brings plenty of life to the role of Babbage. Playing dual roles are Megan Haratine, as Annabella and Mary Somerville, and Garret Storms as two Lords – Lovelace and Byron.
The first act condenses much of Ada’s life with quick exposition and then we’re off to follow this young, vibrant woman on a journey into the world of mathematics, where she finds true love. But is that math or Babbage? I’m not sure Ada knows, but she does know she’s onto something. Like Cher in Clueless, Ada is an intelligent woman who is expected to fit into society’s conventions. She tries, but can’t keep her effervescent personality or couriosity in check. That’s good for us, the audience. The conflict comes as she eventually settles down and agrees to be marry a “suitable” match in Lord Lovelace. Will she continue her innovative thoughts regarding math? Or is she still attracted to Babbage, the man, as opposed to the “thinking machine?”
The second act finds us following Ada to the end of her short life as she completes a paper that basically lays out how Babbage’s “thinking machine” can be used for more than mere numbers. It’s more entertaining than it sounds on the page, believe me. We even get a trip to the afterlife, where she meets, basically for the first time, her famous father. What playwright could resist shoehorning the “bad boy” of the Romantic poets into a play, even if it takes a bit of metaphysical magic?
Ada wants to make a machine that makes more than numbers – one that can also make music.
The play about her makes its own kind of music, too.
Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press.
ADA AND THE ENGINE
by Lauren Gunderson
Where: Stage West
821 W. Vickery Blvd., Fort Worth, Texas 76104
Metro (817) 784-9378 (STG-WEST)
Regular Run: Jan 11 through Feb 9, 2020
Thursday evenings 7:30PM
Friday & Saturday evenings 8:00 PM
Sunday matinees 3:00 PM
$35 Thurs and Fri nights
$40 Sat nights and Sun matinees
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