THE ADDING MACHINE
*PICK OF THE WEEK
Sexual harassment, racism, job-site murder, corporate
downsizing - they all seem plucked from today's headlines. Yet these "topical"
issues, and others, eerily resonate throughout El mer Rice's prescient 1923 expressionist
classic, in a splendid mounting by director Lauren Hollingsworth for Sacred Fools Theater
Company. Meet Mr. Zero (played with appropriate faux toughness by Craig Mathers), a store
receipt-cruncher of 25 years, who, having just been informed that he will shortly be
replaced by a machine, goes postal and murders his boss. Zero's subsequent imprisonment (a
strange, involving moment in which Zero is treated like an attraction at a zoo), trial and
execution aren't the end of the saga, however. He ventures into the afterlife,
encountering other dead souls, including a co-worker (Amy Jones) for whom he had the hots.
Zero also learns some unpleasant truths about himself, as well as the disconcerting news
that he must return to Earth to do it all over again. Call it the reincarnation treadmill.
In a lesser director's hands, all this could easily implode into didactic tedium, but
Hollings worth's inventive, well-focused staging not only sustains but embellishes upon
the piece's harsh, satirical wit. Stacie London's bleak, gray set pieces are simple yet
-Lovell Estell III, ©1999 LA WEEKLY
LA TIMES *CRITIC'S PICK
The winner of the Worst Karma of 1923 award goes to the
number-crunching shlub of Elmer Rice's play "The Adding Machine." Rice's
Expressionist study, which retains surprising wit and potency in director Lauren
Hollingsworth's Sacred Fools Theater Company staging, follows the emblematic Mr. Zero. He
lives the drone's life, 25 years' worth of "adding figures and waiting for
5:30." At work, Zero (Craig Mathers) entertains lovesick daydreams about his
co-worker, Daisy Diana Dorothea Devore (Amy Jones). Then Zero gets the boot--replaced by a
machine. He retaliates by killing his boss. After his own trial and execution, he shoots
up to heaven, where in the Elysian Fields, having reunited with his (now dead) co-worker
Daisy, Zero proves the same unreflective schmo he was on Earth. By 1923, American
playwrights had gleaned a few things from German theater, the primary source of theatrical
Expressionism and its distortional techniques. Mr. Zero belongs to a long line of
characters ensnared by the machine age, as well as his own rash and futile actions. More
intriguingly, Rice's protagonist is a blood relative of various small-minded American
Babbitts, mindful of appearances, racist, anti-labor, conformity-plus. Even in heaven, Mr.
Zero can't shake his old hang-ups about respectability. We're inside a suffocating
character's head throughout "The Adding Machine." Director Hollingsworth
works well with choreographer Pogo Saito and her designers to create a cold gray universe
on a budget. Zero is connected, literally, via conveyor belt to his beloved co-worker.
Around them, minions glide by, walking at half-speed. In a graveyard way-station en
route to heaven, Zero chats up a fellow deceased murderer, played by Jeff Goldman.
Goldman's an exceptional hysteric, reminiscent of Gene Wilder; he knows how to make
anxiety funny. Throughout, Hollingsworth doesn't over- or under-stress the distorted
atmospherics. She has an eye, but she also makes room for her better actors, chief among
them Mathers, Goldman and, in bit parts, sleek, born-for-film-noir sensualist Piper Henry.
There's a lot going on in the best of the '20s dreamscapes, as Michael Greif's
recent New York production of the 1928 "Machinal" revealed. Even with some
routine acting, the Sacred Fools rendition of "The Adding Machine" works.
Together, the material and the production illustrate the life of a guy whose enemy isn't
the machine; it's his own underfed imagination.
- Michael Phillips, Times Theater Critic, ©1999 LA TIMES
What's black and white and gray all over? Why, the
soul-stunning, worker-bee world of the aptly named number cruncher, Mr. Zero, that's what.
Zero is the exasperated anti-hero of The Adding Machine, Elmer Rice's darkly comic 1923
forecast of the dangers of a mechanized, dehumanized society, which remains amazingly
relevant as we reach the dawn of a new millennium.
Cleanly directed by Lauren Hollingsworth, this provocative production is ably complimented
by Nicole Thomas' uniform but stylized costumes; the choreographed movements of Pogo Saito
(who also plays Mrs. Six); Stacie B. London's flat-faced, monochromatic scenic design,
starkly lit by Bryan Schulte, and the assembly line mutterings of Drew Dalzell's sound.
Hollingsworth's average-to-above-average-level cast is led by a trio of potent performers
(Craig Mathers, Amy Jones, and Jeff Goldblum), and by her directorial underscoring of the
script's humor, which helps to illustrate the point while not depriving us of the full
impact of a mind-numbing, by-the-numbers lifestyle.
A spineless schmuck who's been on the job for 25 years, Zero (Mathers, who walks
confidently and crazily right on the edge) cannot stand up for himself. Whether it's the
constant haranguing of his harpy wife (M.E. Dunn) or going seven years without a raise,
Zero just grimaces, swallows his rage, and gets up the next day to don the same
black-and-white suit and carry the same black-and-white perspective into the same dull
gray office (where he's never missed a day) and then go back home to the same dull gray
wife and house.
When Zero is told he's being replaced by an adding machine that can do his job more
efficiently, more accurately, in less time and at a lower cost, he goes berserk and shoots
his boss. A trial, an execution, and a trip to the heavenly Elysian Fields soon follow,
where Zero is befriended by a distraught fellow with anxiety problems (a hilariously
intense Goldblum), maybe because he murdered his mother.
But Zero's dismal point of view doesn't allow him to accept forgiveness or enjoy pleasures
he missed on earth-including the affections of his now deceased co-worker, Miss Daisy
Diana Dorothea Devore (the lovely, light, and airy Jones), who committed suicide just to
be with him. With his rigid, close-minded attitude, Zero learns-you guessed it-zip about
himself. When he makes the startling discovery that, like a cosmic conveyor belt between
the spiritual and earthly worlds, reincarnation really exists, and, like it or not, he's
gotta go back, Zero's unwillingness to relax, open up, and learn even a little bit from
his experiences guarantees his next time around won't be much different from the last-the
same black-and-white p.o.v. in the same kind of dull gray office, surrounded by the same
kind of dull gray people, and so on and so on ad infinitum.
- Terri Roberts, ©1999 BACKSTAGE WEST