Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Adding Machine: A Musical
Audiences looking for a different kind of musical-theatrical experiencedark, intense, thought-provoking and utterly rewardingshould get to Studio Theatre's black box Stage 4 in Washington, DC, for the regional premiere of Adding Machine: A Musical. Librettist Jason Loewith has directed his own work, working with a powerfully inspired cast and three talented musicians.
The musical is an adaptation of Elmer Rice's 1923 play The Adding Machine, an incisive Expressionist look at the role of the worker as a cog in the grinding mechanism of capitalism, that retains the original time period. Mr. Zero (David Benoit) has worked at the same job for 25 years, adding long lists of numbers and waiting for his boss (Dan Via) to reward his devotion to the company. When things don't work out as Mr. Zero would hope, he lashes out, breaking out of his place for the first time in his life.
Loewith and composer Joshua Schmidt draw on musical influences from throughout the 20th century to create a flowing, unique score that never completely stops during the 90-minute run time. It should be noted that the attitudes depicted are often abrasive. Mr. Zero is a physically large but spiritually small man who despises those smaller than himself; his wife (Joanne Schmoll) is a harridan with little but contempt for her husband; their friends tell dirty jokes and throw around ethnic slurs. The one genuinely kind-hearted person in the drama is Daisy (Kristen Jepperson), Mr. Zero's secretary, a sweetly sad woman sustained by her silent love for her boss.
The nine-member cast doesn't have a weak link, from Benoit fighting vainly for a piece of The American Dream to Stephen Gregory Smith as a religious fanatic who finds a revelation he never saw coming, to the shape-shifting four-member chorus (Joe Peck, Katie Nigsch, Thomas Adrian Simpson, Channez McQuay).
The use of Studio's smallest, rawest space adds to the claustrophobic nature of the experience. Debra Booth's seemingly minimal scenic design offers a succession of surprises, with strong assistance from Michael Lincoln's tightly focused lighting design; Neil McFadden's cleverly distorted sound design; and Ivania Stack's character-revealing costumes.
Studio Theatre is presenting Adding Machine: A Musical as part of a series it calls "The Money Plays," which will also include two other considerations of American business and the desire for wealth: George S. Kaufman and Howard Teichmann's 1953 farce The Solid Gold Cadillac and David Mamet's modern classic American Buffalo.