SpeakEasy’s ‘Adding Machine’ Calculates Human Worth

Zero. Patient Zero. Zero worth. An experiment. Without value. All of these come to mind with the character, Mr. Zero, in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s currently running, Adding Machine: The Musical. Emasculated by his wife because he hasn’t provided her with the life she sees others having and deprived of his job of twenty-five years, he’s left with nothing. With nothing to lose after losing his job, Zero kills his boss who can’t even remember the long-tenured employee’s name.

You may think this gives away everything there is to know about this New England premiere, but you’d be sorely mistaken and even more disappointed to have missed Brendan McNab’s stunning performance as the defeated Zero. He’s not the only one who has contributed to this carefully constructed, beautifully pulsating production. He’s supported by Amelia Broome, as his grating wife, Liz Hayes plays Daisy, and John Bambery as Shrdlu, as well as the supporting cast of Sean McGuirk, Leigh Barrett, Cheryl McMahon, Bob De Vivo, and David Krinitt all of whom play multiple roles.

Director Paul Melone hasn’t wasted a movement by any of the actors or an inch of the space in the Roberts Studio Theatre. Susan Zeeman Rogers set takes the audience as they enter the space, cramped in the theatre suggesting crowded factory full of bodies. Instead of building height into the stage, a trench runs through the stage serving as a workplace and the depths of the prison below makeshift metal grates where the prisoners sit, eating their last meal. The industrial soundscape created by Aaron Mack along with Jeff Adelberg’s stark, dramatic lighting gives Zero and Daisey’s stay in the Elysian Fields a subtle improvement further exemplifying their misery when they proclaim what a lovely place it is and how they wish to stay forever, if they could.

Despite being adapted from Elmer Rice’s 1923 play, Jason Loweth and Joshua Schmidt’s musical feels surprisingly contemporary, present, and real. This is not only a tribute to Melone and company’s bold production but also to the connections the themes have to our current times. When Zero is told that while the adding machine has a higher initial investment cost, the long term maintenance (referring to the cost of an employee’s health care) is far lower. There is less risk and, after all, a “high school girl” can operate the adding machine. This seems sadly similar to attitudes people are encountering everyday, where technology allows for automation. However, people are forgetting about the human element and that it may, indeed, take skills to operate those machines. The newspaper industry comes to mind. We see a disdain by old school print journalists for bloggers and other online-only publishers. Instead, they dismiss the idea that fields evolve because of passion for the industry: to push boundaries. It’s only when Zero uses a machine in the afterlife that he realizes the sheer excitement of the machine that replaced him.

In the past year, we’ve had many movies about unemployment, loss, and change. Up In the Air with George Clooney comes to mind mostly because besides the professional actors, the people who responded to being told they were losing their jobs were actual people who had recently been laid off. None of them (to our knowledge, at least) expressed the extreme revenge fantasy of murdering their boss. SpeakEasy’s Adding Machine lets us look into the world—the workplace and the home life—of the person who enacts that fantasy, agreeing to pay the price with his own life. He loses everything but, then again, does he have anything to begin with?

SpeakEasy Stage has one of the more relevant theatre seasons this year. Starting out the year, they began with The Savannah Disputation, which grappled with ideas of faith, rigidity with a theological showdown. With [title of show] they gave us a glimpse into the passion of musical theatre artists seeking, against all odds and many people telling them they should, to create something of their own. With Adding Machine: The Musical, we’re given a glimpse into the cold severe world where a cold calculation resulting in a number determines human worth. One can only wonder what the final production of the 2009-10 Season, The Great American Trailer Park Musical, will bring us.

Adding Machinenews wire, production photos
SpeakEasy Stage Company • • 617-482-3279

Adding Machinenews wire, production photos
SpeakEasy Stage Company • • 617-482-3279

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