T3’s audacious, dystopian Adding Machine

Adding Machine is a tongue-in-cheek, satirical musical, adapted from the play by Elmer Rice that debuted in the 1920’s. On the 25th Anniversary of his hiring with an accounting firm, “Zero” is fired. His boss explains no hard feelings, but an adding machine is far more efficient, without the bother of requiring a wage. Expediency eclipses humanity. Poor Zero is not a human being, but an asset that has ceased to be essential. He has fallen under the ax of expediency. In a fit of blind rage he murders his boss, and condemned to death by hanging. But that is just the beginning.

From the outset, we can tell Adding Machine is not a conventional musical. A chorus of four supplies histrionic, operatic urgency and fills in by playing various roles throughout. Their often amusing behavior stands in stark contrast to the content of the lyrics. We begin with Zero and Mrs. Zero, climbing into bed. While the missus natters about gossip, social obligations, disappointments. Sadly, she is an unmitigated harridan, and it’s not long before she digs in: I was a fool to marry you, this sort of thing. There is a cartoony, excessive mien to all this, all the better to tickle you, my dear; a blending of social commentary and absurd humor. In the office we see the daily rhythm of adding numbers, and gradually catch on that despite their bickering, Zero and his assistant, Daisy DeVore, have an unacknowledged yearning for each other.

Rice was probably ahead of his time in writing this dystopian critique of the empty values behind capitalism. The subsequent score and libretto by Joshua Schmidt and Jason Loewith italicize and heighten the material. The murder of The Boss is merely a triggering event that propels Zero to death row and the afterlife, and subsequent examination of the foibles of humanity and our need for purpose. There’s a wry undercurrent to the most serious of events, never letting us forget we are witnessing a marriage between the wretched and the ridiculous. Even when Zero is offered the opportunity to move past drudgery it would seem he is more devoted to his shackles. For all our encouragement to read him as a schlub, he is also an Everyman, finding his value as a person (and a man) in the soothing ritual of a repetitive job.

I never cease to be astonished at the stamina, brilliance and inventiveness of the shows at Theatre 3. Artistic Director Jeffrey Schmidt has taken the new season in an edgy direction, with fresh ideas about practice and worldview. Director Blake Hackler and this diligent, dedicated, kinetic cast (Allison Pistorius, Thomas Ward, Jenni Roller, Brandon McInnis, John Daniel Pszyk, James Chandler, Angela Davis, Kathryn Taylor Rose and Ashley Wood) et al, bring a loopy, hilariously grim energy to this deliciously jaundiced fable.

Adding Machine: A Musical plays September 28th -October 22nd, 2017. Theatre 3. 2800 Routh Street, Suite 168, Dallas, Texas 75201. 214-871-3300. theatre3dallas.com

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