Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Reston Community Players An Experiment with an Air Pump

By • Jan 28th, 2008 • Category: Reviews

Listen to our review of the Reston Community Players’ production of An Experiment with an Air Pump [MP3 6:20 2.9MB].

An Experiment with an Air Pump
Reston Community Players
Reston Community Center, Reston, VA
$15/$13 Senior and Student
Through February 2nd

Laura: This is the review of An Experiment with an Air Pump performed by the Reston Community Players in Reston, Virginia. Mike and I saw the performance on Saturday, January 26, 2008.

Mike: This was a very good show. The audience really got into the performance we attended. There was spontaneous applause at one point (not going to give away why), but it was funny that the audience interacted with the people on stage.

Laura: Yes it was, there was intrigue and mystery and an ending that I didn’t see coming. Overall it was really well acted and I enjoyed it.

Mike: An Experiment with an Air Pump is a play by Shelagh Stephenson. Inspired by the painting An Experiment Upon a Bird in the Air Pump by Joseph Bright. It takes place in the same house in two different time periods separated by a gap of 200 years. The play questions the basic principles of scientific and medical research, such as the right of a scientist to cross ethical limits, either by performing dissection on the recently deceased or the use of embryos in stem cell research.

Laura: Susannah and Ellen were played by Sky Henderson. Sky did a very good job in her roles. In 1799 she was very much not really cynical, but she had her opinions and made them known. Then in 1999 she was down to earth, but still held on to her beliefs. It was a really good performance.

Mike: Susannah was kind of stuck in 1799 as simply something to be seen. She did not have a real strong connection with her husband. There was a scene late in the show where she had had enough of her husband Fenwick. She shared all of her frustrations with him. It was a very emotional scene. Although she didn’t resort to histrionics, it was a very realistic scene. I think that conversation between the two of them worked really well.

Laura: Her husband Fenwick/Tom was played by Marshall Henderson. He did a good job. I think in in 1999 as Tom he was a little more placating. In 1799 he was more condescending to his wife and they had some good scenes where they got in to it.

Mike: Fenwick was a little bit too blase about the relationship and about things around him. For example, it was nearing the turn of the century, moving into 1800. The people in the city were having some kind of revolution, but he didn’t seem all too concerned about it. He just said that they will do what they need to do. That was interesting. In the 1999 time frame as Tom, he was more depressed and more introspective. So it seemed like the roles had switched from the 1799 to the 1999. In 1799 the man was in charge and in 1999 the woman was in charge.

Laura: Roget was a friend of the family, played by Michael Voit. He did a great job. His role was very believable. He was very kind, especially toward Isobel the maid. He was realistic and intent on his research.

Mike: Yes, I think Roget did a good, fine superior, quality, excellent, superb, outstanding, magnificent, exceptional, marvelous, wonderful, first rate job with his role.

Laura: I think that sums it up.

Mike: All kidding aside, he was pretty good. I liked seeing Roget on stage. Everyone has a Roget’s Thesaurus and it was actually him. I never really thought about it, but there must be some guy somewhere who first made a list of words. He was pretty concerned and pretty in line with the thinking of Tom. Some of the later scenes with Roget and Armstrong got pretty heated. It was an interesting look between Roget and Armstrong. They were very much like a Laurel and Hardy or Abbot and Costello effect.

Laura: Armstrong and Phil were played by Tom Witherspoon. The 1799 Armstrong was not a very nice person. The character was very selfish. He took advantage of people and was a jerk.

Mike: I didn’t realize until just few minutes ago in reading the playbill that Armstrong and Phil were the same person. I simply glossed over that and didn’t give it much thought. I think Witherspoon did a good job of keeping the two parts separate. The way he carried himself on stage I didn’t realize it was the same person.

Laura: Isobel was the maid in 1799, played by Karen Schlumpf. She did an outstanding job. She was very kindhearted and wanted to please the people of the house. She thought she was in love, but later got her heart stepped on. The way the story ended was very surprising.

Mike: Harriet and Maria were sisters in 1799. They were played by Robin Zerbe and Kelsey Kolbe. They had their difference as sisters do. They provided some of the comic relief. There were a series of vignettes of Maria writing to her long lost love Edward, who was out sailing with the British Navy. Those scenes did not directly impact the show other than the girl’s conflict about that relationship. It was an interesting side plot.

Laura: The set for An Experiment with An Air Pump was good. The Set Designer was Maggie Modig. It was a simple set which they used effectively. When they brought on the pieces for 1999, wasn’t a lot of scene to be changed. It was very smoothly done.

Mike: The show runs two hours and forty five minute long with one intermission. It is playing for one more weekend at the Reston Community Center in Reston, Virginia. Friday and Saturday night at 8 PM.

Laura: If you’ve seen the show, we’d like to hear your thoughts. Feel free to leave a comment here on our website: We’d also like to invite you to join our free mailing list so you can stay informed on theater happenings in the Northern Virginia region.

Mike: And now, on with the show.


  • Susannah/Ellen: Sky Henderson
  • Fenwick/Tom: Marshall Henderson
  • Roget: Michael Voit
  • Armstrong/Phil: Tom Witherspoon
  • Harriet/Kate: Robin Zerbe
  • Maria: Kelsey Kolbe
  • Isobel: Karen Schlumpf


  • Co-Producers: Laura Baughman, Sue Pinkman
  • Director: Adam Konowe
  • Assistant Director: Brian Farrell
  • Stage Manager: Robert Knight
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Eileen Mullee
  • Stage Combat Choreography: Brian Farrell, Karen Schlumpf
  • Dialect Coach: Linda Cameron-Cadenazzi, Tel Monks
  • Set Design: Maggie Modig
  • Set Construction, Master Carpenter: Tom Geuting
  • Set Construction Assistant: Stacey Sherrard
  • Set Painting Design: Maggie Modig
  • Set Painting: Maggie Modig, Barbara Swart
  • Set Decoration: Susan Eimes, Barbara Swart, Joan Eimes
  • Properties: Susan Eimes, Charlotte Marson, Laura Baughman
  • Lighting Design: Franklin Coleman
  • Master Electrician: Sara Birkhead
  • Board operator: Sara Birkhead
  • Sound Design & Board Operator: William Chrapcynski
  • Special Effects Design
  • Bird in air pump design: Tel Monks, Jerry Skene
  • Hanging Rigging: Robb Hunter, Rick Schneider
  • Costume Design and Acquisition: Sue Pinkman
  • Costume Construction: Maggie Geuting, Anita Miller, Kay Vakerics, Robbie Lauck, Charlotte Marson
  • Dressers: Hannah R. Rohlfs, Charlotte Marson, Sherry Singer, Kara Kolbe, Kay Vakerics, Eileen Muller
  • Makeup Design: Sue Pinkman
  • Hair Design: Sue Pinkman, Anna Michelle Jackson
  • Running Crew chief: Greg Steele
  • Running Crew: Jeff Bumgardner, Stacy Sherrard, Sherry Singer
  • Publicity: Kay Vakerics
  • Showbill: Jerry Morse, Jody Al-Saigh
  • Front of House: Judy Cook
  • Photographer: Joe Douglass
  • Sign Language Interpreters: Kristen Sprenger, Andrea Smith
  • Understudy Interpreter: Julie Crawford
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started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

One Response »

  1. I saw Experiment with an Airpump on closing weekend and, despite my lack of knowledge of this play, really enjoyed the performances. Sky Henderson is one of my favorite local actresses and she did not disappoint in this production. I found all of the perfomances to be very satisfying, the lighting was innovative, the scenes moved very smoothly from one to another and the blocking was well done. My only comment would be that some of the scene changes could have been done behind the girl reading the letters to her beau. That may have taken off some time. Aside from that, it was well done and I’m glad I changed my plans in order to see it.