Sunday, March 16, 2008

Off-Broadway: ADD1NG MACH1NE

I’m not sure that you’d have to be a middle-aged man who’s been laid off at least once to get the first part of Add1ng Mach1ne, which opened last month at the Minetta Lane Theatre, but it helps. The last time I was laid off, the home office sent an officer of the firm to do it, apparently a legal nicety when a couple of people are getting canned at the same tine. The boss (the guy who hired me) was nowhere in sight. It seems to me that the guy who hired me should have been the one to show me the door, and that’s what happens in the musical Add1ng Mach1ne, based on a play by Elmer Rice.

In the 1920s, Mr. Zero (Joel Hatch) is let go (’20s-talk for laid off) by the boss. Zero had been expecting a promotion from the position of hand-tally man to the front office after 25 years of service. The daily morning nag from his wife (the opening number “Something to Be Proud Of”), plus the revelation that an adding machine was taking his job, drives Zero to a murderous rage. He kills his boss and lands on Death Row on the way to Heaven, an afterlife that’s not what he expects or even wants.

Minor criticism: I had a problem with the accents of Mr. Zero and Mrs. Zero (Cyrilla Bear). Was it working-class American or Cockney? Mr. Zero maintains his accent when he sings but Mrs. Zero lapses into operatic pronunciation and sounds less of a nagging shrew.

There’s a very clever bit of staging in Scene 1, where we are looking down at the couple in bed. The bed is standing on its bottom and I wondered how they kept the covers looking natural but not falling down so to speak.

Elmer Rice wrote a scathing play about capitalism’s bosses but he’s not too crazy about the workers either. Jason Loewth and Joshua Schmidt’s libretto, with Schmidt’s often discordant music, evokes the rollicking 1920s with the dark mood of the1930s (the real 1930s, not the movie version). There’s welcome comic relief in the role of Daisy (Amy Warren), whose unrequited love for Mr. Zero is given flight in the gentle ballad “I’d Rather Watch You.”

Since most of the show is sung, if you don’t like musicals I wouldn’t recommend Add1ng Mach1ne. If you do want to spend a very fast 90 minutes at an entertaining expressionistic musical that could be a harbinger of the bleak times ahead (as Rice’s play was in 1923?), if this week’s Bailey Savings and Loan–like run on Bear Stearns is any indication, then go. This was a bargain at $28 (TDF tickets).

1 On the Town is back on the town. My employment prospects have picked up in the last few weeks and I hope to once again offer the reader reviews of the best in bargain theater. The downside is that the more I work the less time and energy I have to go out. Ah sweet mystery of life.

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