By Jon Steinhagen
Directed by Bob Knith
At Circle Theatre Forest Park
Promising world premiere drawing room comedy of manners as its moments
Jon Steinhagen is a multi-talented playwright, actor and musician whose new play–The Analytical Engine,now playing at Circle Theatre-is a throw-back comedy of manners set in 1850 with a modern sensibility.
We meet the Powell’s of Connecticut–a most peculiar threesome of zany personalities. Marigold Powell (Catherine Ferraro) is the fiction novel writer with a sharp tongue. Virginia Powell ( Mary Redmon), the mother, burn most meals, misuses the English language and she fakes being stupid. Hippolyta Powell (Patricia Austin) is a scientist-inventor who has built the world’s first computer–an analytical engine.
She is being counted, sort of, by Eppa Morton (Jon Steinhagen), a middle aged lonely nerdy businessman. Hippolyta decides to use her machine–not to solve mathematical problems quickly–but to aid her to find the “perfect man.” Her family and Eppa are troubled by this. meanwhile, Lady Ada Lovelace–Lord Byron’s (Denita Linnertz) daughter visits from England to see the machine.
The trouble starts for Hippolyta and Eppa when the machine scores a 91% march for Hippolyta with Nathaniel Swade (Eric Lindahl)-a handsome young charismatic bachelor. Hippolyta stand by her science rather than listening to her heart and everyone around her. Eppa listens to Marigold and Virginia as he is determined to win Hippolyta’s heart. When Virginia unfolds her own plan to get both her daughters married, things get wacky.
Steinhagen’s plotting (and his acting) were the strongest elements along with Bob Knuth’s mahogany 19th Century drawing room set. There was little laughter despite some clever wordplay and some smart comic bits. Comedy of manners work best when we quickly relate to each character and here we don’t believe that Lindahl’s character is an arrogant self-centered as played. Catherine Ferraro plays Marigold much too nasty for us to care about her. Lady Lovelace’s character could have more involvement and Mary Redmon’s Virginia could tone down a tad. It seemed to me that much of the humor got lost with poor timing and uneven pacing. Once the cast tightens things and tones down their volume some, The Analytical Engine will emerge as a refreshing new work that will please audiences. On the whole, Steinhagen’s show is work a look.
At Circle Theatre, 7300 W. Madison, Forest Park, IL, call 708-771-0700, Tickets $20 – $24, Fridays & Saturday at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission.