REVIEW: The Analytical Engine (Circle Theatre)

Steampunk gone silly

 

Patricia Austin, Denita Linnertz, Eric Lindahl and Catherine

 

Circle Theatre, Forest Park, presents:

The Analytical Engine

By Jon Steinhagen
Directed by
Bob Knuth
Through March 28 (more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Don’t be afraid of the scientific history implied by the title of Circle Theatre’s world premiere The Analytical Engine — little math or science actually surfaces. A frivolous, Harlequin romance of a play, The Analytical Engine takes a promising concept, a bluestocking American heroine who has actually built the steam-powered calculating machine that mathematician Charles Babbage only imagined, and utterly trivializes it.

Patricia Austin and Denita Linnertz Although he never actually created it, Babbage’s machine forms an important basis in the history of computers, due in no small part to the writings of his disciple Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, who wrote extensively about how it might be put to use. That’s the only piece of scientific background you need.

Set in 1850 Connecticut, Jon Steinhagen’s play, which won first prize in the 2009 Julie Harris Playwright Awards, centers on Hippolyta Powell, a mathematically minded young lady who’s constructed the huge, clanking computer in her family barn, much to the consternation of her sardonic, novelist sister and dizzy, artistic mother. Having achieved the technological triumph of her era, Hippolyta does not set it to calculating Bernoulli numbers or composing scientific music, uses proposed by Lady Lovelace, who appears in the play as a haughty and curious visitor, but instead feeds it punched cards delineating hundreds of local bachelors with the aim of finding her perfect mate. Love does not enter into her equations.

If you can get past the utter silliness of the concept, Bob Knuth stages the story with great charm on his absolute dream of a Victorian-era drawing room set (though I’m told it’s virtually identical to the one the theater used for "Little Women"). Gorgeous period costumes by Elizabeth Wislar add still more eye candy.

Catherine Ferraro, Mary Redmon and Patricia Austin Jon Steinhagen and Eric Lindahl
Jon Steinhagen, Mary Redmon and Patricia Austin Patricia Austin and Jon Steinhagen (2)

The pacing could be zippier, but Patricia Austin bubbles as the bouncy, enthusiastic Hippolyta. Catherine Ferraro is wonderfully arch as her literary sister, Marigold, and Mary Redmon shines as their ditzy but sometimes down-to-earth mother.

Denita Linnertz adds elegance as Lady Lovelace. Eric Lindahl seems a bit miscast — too good-humored and fresh-faced — for the role of Nathaniel Swade, the somewhat shady dandy whose card the Analytical Engine chooses a Hippolyta’s top match, while the playwright, Steinhagen, does a perfect job as Eppa Morton, her bumbling teddy bear of a rejected swain.

Yet for all the heft of the never-seen Analytical Engine, this is one fluffy story.

Rating: ★★★

 

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One Response

  1. […] (review ★★) Mary Redmon:  The Analytical Engine  – Circle Theatre  (review […]

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