Thursday, May 15, 2008

Adding Machine

It was the best of times for musical revivals in this 2007-2008 theatre season, with South Pacific, Gypsy and Sunday in the Park with George being the highlights.

It was the worst of times, though, for new musicals, with Passing Strange, The Little Mermaid, Young Frankenstein and A Catered Affair being the worst of this (or any) season.

And then there’s Adding Machine, a new musical, but with the quality of one of the outstanding revivals. I had put off seeing this show when the press invitation arrived because I wasn’t sure it was worth journeying all the way down to the Minetta Lane for, even though I really like that theatre. Then our Drama Desk nominations were announced and Adding Machine received nine, more than any other show but one. (A Catered Affair received 12, something that is unfathomable to me.)

As often happens during voting season, I encounter some unexpected treasures while doing my duty as a voter. In years past I had avoided Frozen because a play about a child molester and murdered sounded depressing. It wasn’t, largely thanks to Swoosie Kurtz’s moving and often funny portrayal of the mother. Another memorable experience was seeing I Am My Own Wife, which I had skipped because this one-man play about a real man who lived as a woman who would be played by a man portraying all 35 characters sounded just plain too confusing. It wasn’t because actor Jefferson Mays became all the characters, winning for himself a much-deserved Tony.

Now it has happened again, a solid theatrical find at the end of the season. It wasn’t, however, the kind of show that had me dancing and singing my way home. Adding Machine is a dark, expressionistic musical retelling of Elmer Rice’s 1923 play of hopelessness and despair.

The music, by Joshua Schmidt, who also wrote the libretto with Jason Loewith, is almost incidental, although it definitely adds to the theatricality of the evening. What is so compelling, in a depressing way, is Joel Hatch’s portrayal of Mr. Zero, a man who has spent 25 years of his life adding figures in a dimly lit office -- six days a week, with only one week off each year. He likes figures because they don’t ask questions, and they don’t talk back, unlike his wife who drones on and one and belittles him every chance she has.

The breaking point is when Zero’s dismal though predictable life is shattered when he is replaced by an adding machine.

In addition to Hatch, the cast, under the direction of David Cromer, stars Cyrilla Baer as Mrs. Zero, Amy Warren, Joe Farrell, Jeff Still, Adinah Alexander, Niffer Clarke, Roger E. DeWitt and Daniel Marcus. Keith Parham’s lighting should also be noted.

Because this show has received great reviews and numerous nominations from the various theatrical critics’ organizations, it has been extended through the summer at the Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, just blocks southwest of N.Y.U. In addition, the recently recorded PS Classics cast album will go on sale exclusively at the theatre and online at on May 20, two weeks ahead of the June 3 street date.

The performance schedule for Adding Machine is Tuesday – Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.  Tickets are $45 - $69.50 and are available by calling the Minetta Lane Theatre box office at 212-420-8000 or through Ticketmaster at 212-307-4100 or by visiting  A limited number of $25 student rush tickets are available in person at the box office on the day of the performance, subject to availability.
For more information, visit

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