The advantage in seeing a production in previews is not only that the ticket is cheaper but that I get to help promote a show when there’s still plenty of time for others to see it.
I enthusiastically recommend Ada and the Memory Engine, Lauren Gunderson’s latest tour de force, playing at the Berkeley City Club in an intimate space. (I counted only 50 seats.) It’s the story of Ada Lovelace, who is raised by her mother to be a mathematician, mostly to counteract any possible genetic predisposition toward poetry. Ada’s father was the Romantic poet, Lord Byron, who was a bit of a ladies’ man, to say the least. Subsequently, mom and dad did not separate on good terms. Despite mama’s best efforts, Ada manages to connect with her late philandering father, most directly through his famous lyric poem, “She Walks in Beauty.”
Ada meets Charles Babbage, the person who first imagined the engine that became what we know today as the computer. She becomes not only his inspiration but is the one who translates his ideas to text and gives them some necessary structure along the way. Charles was big on ideas but not a man of action.
It’s a tale interwoven with math, love, aspirations, family obligations, and even the old nature versus nurture argument. Kathryn Zdan plays the passionate Ada with gust–when Zdan is on stage, all eyes are drawn to her. Kevin Clarke portrays the complicated Babbage with finesse. The two other actors do wonderful jobs of portraying the four other characters distinctly, and Josh Schell’s turn as “the man” is particularly engaging.
Because the performance space is not a stage, the blocking had to be particularly inventive, and director Gary Graves came through with flying colors. Although Ada is not a musical, there is some singing and dancing. The singing was fine, and the song fit the mood well. Dance enriched the play both as a vehicle for formal Victorian courtship and for foreshadowing Ada’s relationship with her mentor. Where it was less successful on stage was at the end when it was trying to be a metaphor when none was needed. Perhaps the choreography was just not my cup of tea, but I felt the script was so strong that the dancing at the end was superfluous. But this was a tiny flaw that did not detract from my overall enjoyment of what was otherwise a scintillating evening of theater.
Co-produced by Central Works and the Playwright Foundation, Ada is showing through November 22. But if you want to go, you should reserve tickets now because many shows dates already sold out. http://centralworks.org/ada/?campaignID=157123&patronID=384024418&linkNum=2&memberID=b61c117bdb2a9a93bc64ccc645da5c61