By Samuel M Acosta
On October 15, Teghan Reed and Farrah Rawlings, senior theater majors here at Cedarville, held their capstone project, producing a performance of “Ada and the Engine” by Lauren Gunderson in Alford Auditorium.
With Rawlings playing the leading role of Ada and Reed directing and designing the show, this ended up being one of the best shows that I had ever seen. It not only made me respond emotionally, but the true artistic nature of the show was astounding. It left me speechless as the lights went out for curtain call.
“Ada and the Engine” is inspired by true events as it tells the story of Ada Byron Lovelace, daughter of the infamous Lord Byron who left her and her mother in a sea of scandal. As Ada attempts to navigate society, her knack for mathematics finds her in the company of Charles Babbage, a well-renowned mathematician who is trying to invent the world’s first calculating machine. As Ada’s mother pushes her into a marriage with Lord Lovelace, she must learn how to balance her marriage, her work, and her secret affections for Babbage that grow as the two work together to change the future.
This show was a brilliant demonstration of the true beauty of the theatrical arts and was a wonderful execution of Gunderson’s work, a master playwright with a special skill for touching the soul of the audience. “Ada and the Engine” was no exception. Through the direction of Reed, there was a sense of fluidity that ran throughout the entire play. Scenes seamlessly transitioned from one to the other, without the use of blackouts, which can easily pull an audience out of the world of the play. Instead, we were given beautiful scene shifts using dancing and music and movement. There was intentionality to everything that happened on stage. Even moments that I had originally felt were missteps ended up becoming beautiful strokes in a master plan, all produced by Reed’s natural instinct.
In a period play, it can be difficult to relay the conversational tone that Gunderson is known for. Yet, not only did the actors truly listen to each other but the blocking was often utilized to aid the natural and conversational interaction between characters.
The designs were also beautiful, especially in a space as difficult to utilize as Alford. Not only did Reed design the set and lighting, but she also hand-built several of the costume pieces. The simplicity of the set was accented by detailed set dressings that gave each location a unique feel and made them easily identifiable. I was incredibly impressed and felt instantly transported into the world due to all of Reed’s brilliant contributions.
These elements all helped to illuminate the star of the show, Rawlings, who gave one of the most genuine performances I have seen. Not only did Rawlings relay the pain that Ada felt as she struggled to push through her adversities, but she also masterfully delivered all of the character’s more comedic lines with precise timing. This not only helped alleviate a lot of the emotional weight of the show when it was duly needed but helped create a truly dynamic character that could’ve walked right off that stage.
The emotional range that Rawlings conveyed while still feeling consistent as a character was stunning. I was unable to take my eyes off of the stage for the entire show, and every time Rawlings spoke, she instantly garnered my full attention. There is something to be said for how easily Rawlings can command the stage with nothing more than a single gesture or look. It was truly one of the best performances I have experienced.
The rest of the cast did an incredible job as well and helped to fill the rest of the show with a sense of genuine life that made everything so much more vibrant. Paul Miller, who played Charles Babbage, melted my heart and I loved every scene he was in. Rachel Richardson played Ada’s mother, Lady Anabella Byron, with such poise that I felt like she had walked out of the 1800s to play the role. Bartholomew Mays made me really care for the character of Lord Lovelace and was able to make me respond so genuinely to his character arc. Emily Campbell performed well as Mary Sommerville and had some incredible accent work. Finally, Samuel Claude rounded out the cast as Lord Byron, turning the renowned poet into a truly relatable father who simply just made the wrong choices.
Overall, “Ada and the Engine” was one of the most brilliant shows I have seen. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me happy, and it made me sad. Yet, at the end of it all, all I could feel was complete awe of the true art I had witnessed.
Samuel M Acosta is a Senior Theatre Comprehensive Major and an Arts and Entertainment writer for Cedars. He likes spending his time watching movies, drinking Dr. Pepper, and writing plays.