Story: It’s a black and white world for Mr. Zero, from his dowdy, dingy white shirt and expressionless black tie to his dim, dire job as a number-cruncher at his place of employment. He’s been doing the same menial task eight hours a day, six days a week for exactly 25 years. That changes suddenly, however, when the boss informs him that he is being replaced by a newfangled adding machine.
Struck with panic, Mr. Zero promptly kills his supervisor and is carted off to prison, where he is summarily executed for the crime. He leaves behind an angry wife and a forlorn office sweetheart, Daisy Dorothea Devore, who carries a torch for Mr. Zero even if their relationship has been platonic. After Mr. Zero is put to death, he is surprised to confront many of the issues he thought he’d left behind in his previous, temporal existence. It’s all so confusing.
Highlights: First performed in 2007, this offbeat musical is a two-act adaptation by composer Joshua Schmidt, who collaborated with Jason Loewith on the book and lyrics. It’s based on a 1923 play by Elmer Rice called The Adding Machine, which takes a harsh look at the monotonous and robotized world envisioned by Rice as the dehumanizing wave of the future, a kind of cross between Metropolis and the works of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. The latter, in fact, had adapted another Rice drama, Street Scene, into a musical as well.
Adding Machine: A Musical won several Lucille Lortel Awards as well as an Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical for its 2008 production Off-Broadway. It’s a fitting presentation for the final collaboration between Soundstage Productions and R-S Theatrics, troupes that have carved a niche in the local theater scene by frequently bringing nifty little gems to local audiences that challenge and provoke.
Other Info: Rest assured, Adding Machine: A Musical is far from a polished product. While it offers an intriguing and darkly amusing view of the afterlife as well as a cynical appraisal of the here and now, this production can be discordant as often as ironically melodious. That’s likely in keeping with the authors’ intent. Still, it’s jarring to see an abrupt conclusion to Act I and a rather funky approach to goings-on in general.
Artistic director Christina Rios and musical director Leah Luciano work smoothly in tandem, however, presenting this gray life and its oppressive effect on its inhabitants in an intriguing fashion. Luciano and percussionist Devin Lowe provide the musical accompaniment necessary to color this cynical tour, which features music that is hard to remember and doubtless difficult to sing as well.
Most affecting is Maggie Murphy as the lovelorn Daisy. With one of the few names in the cast not associated with numbers, Daisy Dorothea Devore (DDD) is a three-dimensional human with feelings that extend beyond the narrow confines of the suffocating office she shares with Mr. Zero and others. Murphy nicely etches the real yearnings of her lonely character and adds some much-needed and appreciated color.
So, too, does Antonio Rodriguez as the oddly tagged Shrdlu. As a fellow death-row inmate, he warns Mr. Zero about their impending doom and then just as easily segues into the afterlife. It’s a brief role but one Rodriguez paints with care and conviction.
Reginald Pierre is smooth as the banal and impervious boss and amusing as The Fixer, God’s right-hand guy who busily cleans up damage left by sundry humans. Kimberly Sansone imparts both the cruelty and depression of the vacuous Mrs. Zero, while Nick Moramarco, Rachel Hanks, Bradley Behrmann and Anna Skidis are alternately amusing and chilling as the mindless Mr. and Mrs. Two and Mr. and Mrs. One, respectively.
Chuck Brinkley has the lion’s share of duties as the anti-hero, Mr. Zero, if his character even deserves such recognition. Mr. Zero has limited ambition and even more stunted ability to reach out to his fellow sufferers. Brinkley’s singing is passable but he does what he can with a character whose positive traits nearly match his moniker.
Meg Brinkley provides the quaint props, including that ominous title piece. Rob Bauwens’ lighting and Cat Baelish’s costumes complement the barebones set, mostly in variations on black and white apart from the boss’ suit.
It’s a testy little exercise, but Adding Machine: A Musical offers a tantalizing equation about the depersonalization of modern society, both then and now.
Play: Adding Machine: A Musical
Group: Soundstage Productions/R-S Theatrics
Venue: Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle
Dates: September 14, 15, 16
Tickets: $18-$20; contact brownpapertickets.com or 968-8070
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Autumn Rinaldi