The Adding Machine at Boston's Speakeasy Stage

An Ensemble Musical Equates to a Total Treat

By: - Mar 16, 2010

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The Adding Machine A Musical
Original Music by Joshua Schmidt
Libretto by Jason Loewith & Joshua Schmidt
Based on the play The Adding Machine by Elmer Rice
Directed by Paul Melone
Steven Bergman, Music Director; David Connolly, Choreographer; Susan Xeeman Rogers, Scenic Design; Gail Astrid Buckley, Costumes; Jeff Adelberg, Lighting; Aaron Mack, Sound Design.
Cast: Brendan McNab (Mr. Zero), Amelia Broome (Mrs. Zero), Liz Hayes (Daisy Dorothea Devore), John Bambery (Shrdlu), Sean McGuirk (The Boss/The Fixer/Charles), Leigh Barrett (Mrs. One/Mae/Prisoner's Wife), Cheryl McMahon (Mrs.  Two/Betty/Matron), Bob DeVivo (Mr. One/Prisoner), David Krinitt (Mr. Two/Prison Guard).
Presented by the Speakeasy Stage Company at the Calderwood Pavillion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston.  Until April 10, 2010.

The Adding Machine starts its journey by introducing Mr. and Mrs. Zero, a typical couple living out the American dream. Only it has turned into a nightmare. She is a scold. He silently endures her hectoring, his life of quiet desperation being the best he can manage. At work he is a cipher, his job to tally an endless stream of numbers. He has no imagination, no drive, no hope. His sole source of pride is his spotless record of 25 years of perfect attendance, never being late, and it seems, never having made a mistake.

At work, Mr. Zero (Brendan McNab) is helped by Daisy, who for years has read the numbers to him as he writes them down. She is taken with him, but he is cold and rebuffs any real contact with her. After one attempt at human warmth he responds with "You thought wrong". In the best song of the show, Daisy (Liz Hayes) sings "I'd Rather Watch You" as she heads home, alone, on the Subway.

The structure of the show is such that not much is clear at first, and then, layer by layer, the audience comes to know the characters, their lives, and begins to care about each of the poor souls who inhabit this world of numbers. "In Numbers" is a recurring leitmotif of a song, syncopated and a capella. It is an amazing concoction.

On the day of his 25th Anniversary, Zero, instead of being promoted and thanked, is let go, with only a month's notice. He will be replaced by an adding machine. Later that evening, at a "party" thrown by his wife, he is mocked and demeaned, and reveals that he was fired.  "I killed the boss." he adds matter of factly, "and am waiting for the police to arrive."

That's when this musical gets really interesting, since like Willie Loman in Death of A Salesman, it has a lesson to impart. But in The Adding Machine,  it is not about slowly losing one's mojo and the ability to keep up with changing times. That was Arthur Miller's play. In the Rice/Schmidt/Loewith tale, it is worse.

Zero turns out to be a human being who has simply never thrived. He is a total failure in personal growth, fearful of anything but the safe and predictable. Worse he is also a small minded bigoted little cockroach. He wouldn't take the initiative if it was handed to him on a silver platter.

And this continues after his arrest, trial and execution when he finds himself in the Elysian Fields with Daisy, his former co-worker. She committed suicide when he was executed in order to be with him. Yet even here he rebuffs her, afraid of what is "right". He is a wasted soul, ready for recycling, not having grown a bit during his time on earth.

The cast is uniformly excellent, with Amelia Broome as Mrs. Zero taking a star turn with her opening four minute solo "Something to be Proud Of," which is close to being an operatic aria. Brendan McNab as Mr. Zero never failed to hit the right notes, especially in the  "Ham 'n' Eggs" duet with his wife.

John Bambery as Shrdlu arrives on the scene with explosive energy about halfway through the production, and provides an imaginative and energetic contrast to the timid Mr. Zero.

Leigh Barrett and Bob DeVivo played the cookie cutter Mr. & Mrs. One, while Cheryl McMahon and David Krinitt firmly held the roles of Mr & Mrs Two in check. Required to downplay the innocuous neighbors, they do it with class and subtlety.

Giving The Adding Machine real zip and energy is the music as delivered by a small but powerful trio with Steven Bergman at the piano, Matthew Raskopf on percussion and David Rose on the synthesizer. Rose knows how to make it sound like a lot more than one instrument.

Paul Melone's direction keeps things moving briskly and fully utilizes the clever set.  The checkerboard stage with stark lighting and frequent special effects make excellent use of the Speakeasy space.  The slash in the stage floor which serves as the work space is used to great, even stunning effect.

The Adding Machine as a musical is a bit like a well constructed house. We can only fully appreciate it once it is finished. As layer after layer of the story are added, the whole construct becomes more encompassing and thought-provoking. It requires some attention to fully appreciate the message it has to deliver, but as the curtain comes down, the audience realizes that they have just seen a musical that is more than the sum of its parts.

For those who live in Boston this is a "must see." For those in the Berkshires, gas up and check the oil. It's worth making the trip. It is running through April 10.