Women at the forefront: OBTC starts season with ‘Ada and the Engine;’ Outvisible opens with ‘Unsportsmanlike Conduct’

Photo by Jan Cartwright The Open Book Theatre Company starts its season with Lauren Gunderson's “Ada and the Engine,” with Kez Settle (left) of Detroit as Annabella Byron, who educated her daughter, Ada, played by Sarah Hawkins of Hazel Park, in math and science to rid her of any poetical inclinations she may have inherited from her famous father, Lord Byron. The show runs Sept. 7 to Oct. 6 at the Open Book Theatre Company, 1621 West Road, Trenton. For tickets or more information, call 734-288-7753 or go to openbooktc.com.

Photo by Jan Cartwright
The Open Book Theatre Company starts its season with Lauren Gunderson’s “Ada and the Engine,” with Kez Settle (left) of Detroit as Annabella Byron, who educated her daughter, Ada, played by Sarah Hawkins of Hazel Park, in math and science to rid her of any poetical inclinations she may have inherited from her famous father, Lord Byron. The show runs Sept. 7 to Oct. 6 at the Open Book Theatre Company, 1621 West Road, Trenton. For tickets or more information, call 734-288-7753 or go to openbooktc.com.

By Sue Suchyta
From the Front Row

Whether recognizing that the first computer programmer was a woman, or dealing with the reality of date rate by a sports star, women are at forefront of two season-opening plays Downriver: “Ada and the Engine” at Open Book in Trenton and “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” at Outvisible in Allen Park.

OBTC PRESENTS ‘ADA AND THE ENGINE’

Lauren Gunderson’s “Ada and the Engine” looks at the daughter of the renowned Lord Byron, whose estranged wife deliberately exposed her daughter to math and science to steer her away the from the philandering, poetic life of her father, and how Ada applied punch cards to Babbage’s proposal for the first computer prototype, the Analytical Engine.

The show runs 8 p.m. Sept. 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22, 28 and 29, and Oct. 4 to 6, and 2 p.m. Sept. 9, 16, 23 and 30 at the Open Book Theatre Company, 1621 West Road, Trenton.

Directed by Krista Schafer Ewbank of Grosse Ile Township, the cast includes Sarah Hawkins of Hazel Park as Ada, Lindel Salow of Dearborn as Charles Babbage, Joshua Brown of Brownstown Township as Lord Lovelace, Kez Settle of Detroit as Anabella Byron, Cynthia Szczesny of Grosse Ile Township as Mary Somerville and Matthew Wallace of Rochester Hills as Lord Byron.

Ewbank said she is drawn to plays about people who are passionate in their field.

“Artists and scientists help us see the world in a new way, and theater helps to introduce their stories in wonderful, inspiring ways,” she said.

“Ada and the Engine” is OBTC’s third Gunderson play, having produced “Bauer,” about artists Rudolf Bauer and Hilla von Rebay in 2016, and “Emilie: Le Marquise du Chatelet Defends her Life Tonight,” about 18th century physicist Emilie du Chatelet, during the 2017-18 season.

“She’s the most produced playwright in America now, after Shakespeare,” Ewbank said. “She tells fascinating stories, and never fails to deliver on some wonderful theatricality. She understands what makes theater such a unique experience.”

Ewbank said that Ada’s contributions led to the design of modern computers.

“She was taught math and science, and understood it brilliantly, but it was expected that she wouldn’t actually do anything with it,” she said. “I hope audiences are buzzing about how far we’ve come as a society that accepts women’s contributions, but recognize that we still have a ways to go.”

Hawkins said she hopes audiences leave wanting to learn more about Ada.

“She was brilliant, and wasn’t given enough credit for what she contributed to our daily lives,” she said. “I’d like to see her get the recognition she deserved.”

Hawkins said in addition to Ada’s brilliance, she was stubborn and defiant, yet hopeful, joyful and passionate.

“Gunderson has written a true-to-life character who struggles through the conflict of her head and heart, while standing on the precipice of one of the greatest inventions of human history,” she said. “Ada essentially invented what would become binary code, which is the basis for computer programming, smart phones and the like – our lives would be vastly different.”

Salow said he hopes audiences find the “spark of ideas” intriguing as the story unfolds.

“Potential is an unlimited, timeless resource, and sometimes it just takes the right key to open the lock,” he said. “I hope they are blown away realizing that we were already developing and conceptualizing the precursor to the modern computer as far back as the 1850s. It’s a fascinating journey you won’t want to miss.”

Ewbank said the show is satisfying both emotionally and scientifically.

“Ada dreams of the future, and unfortunately never gets to live it,” Ewbank said. “But it is a celebration of a life lived with purpose and inspiration. It is also full of love, longing, dysfunctional family dynamics, and some biting British wit.”

Tickets are $25, with a $5 discount for seniors and a $10 discount for students with identification. Open nights tickets are $30, and include a post-show reception. For more information or to order, call 734-288-7753 or go to openbooktc.com.

OUTVISIBLE PRESENTS ‘UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT’

Jeff Stolzer’s “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” strike a nerve in the current climate of sexual harassment exposure, as a cocktail waitress who spent a drunken night with a professional athlete fights back against his manipulation and deceit with a charge of date rape.

The show runs 8 p.m. Sept. 21, 22, 24, 28 and 29 and Oct. 1, 5 and 6, and 3 p.m. Oct. 7 at Outvisible Theatre, 18614 Ecorse Road in Allen Park.

Directed by Adriane Galea of Dearborn, the show features Jeremy Kucharek of Royal Oak as Noah Woodward and Danielle Wright of Southfield as as Kaylie Robbins.

“Unsportsmanlike Conduct” is making its debut at Outvisible, and New York City-based playwright Stolzer said he is excited that Outvisible is “committed to doing socially significant plays that provoke audiences, raising important questions without necessarily providing easy answers.”

Galea said the play has a “Law and Order” vibe, and is relevant to the #MeToo movement.

“I’ve been describing ‘Unsportsmanlike Conduct’ as extremely relevant,” Galea said. “We watch as this incredibly famous football player get accused of rape, and the ‘he said, she said’ arguments in a smart but entirely ambiguous way. The audience will have to decide for themselves what happened, and I think it will make for a lot of interesting discussions on the car ride home.”

Tickets are $25, with a $5 discount for seniors, and $10 discount for students with identification. Mondays are “pay what you can” days. For more information or to order, call 313-355-8340 or go to OutvisibleTheatre.com.