Saturday, December 29, 2012

Who's Who for Elmer Rice's THE ADDING MACHINE at ISU

As we near the end of 2012, we have some very intriguing shows to look for in 2013. One of the strangest is probably Elmer Rice's 1923 play The Adding Machine, set for performances from April 5 to 13 at Illinois State University's Center for the Performing Arts.

The Adding Machine is an expressionistic piece about an everyday schlub, a nobody named Mr. Zero, who is what you might call a pencil pusher. Mr. Zero has held the same job for 25 years. But now he's about to be replaced by a machine. An adding machine. Without his job, Mr. Zero truly is nothing, and he has a violent reaction to the boss who announces the arrival of the machine. That takes Mr. Zero on a journey through the justice system and eventually a weirdly surreal afterlife called the Elysian Fields.

You may recognize Elmer Rice's name for Street Scene more than The Adding Machine, given that he won a Pulitzer Prize for the former. But it's the latter that gets revived more often, and its picture of an inhumane industrial world seems to resonate throughout the decades.

Tennessee Williams riffed on the same basic idea in his play Stairs to the Roof, which I saw some years ago at the University of Illinois. There was also a 1969 film of The Adding Machine which starred Milo O'Shea as Mr. Zero, as well as a 2008 musical version directed by David Cromer that started in Chicago and made it to the Minetta Lane Theatre Off-Broadway, where it picked up numerous Lucille Lortel and Drama Desk awards.

For ISU, MFA directing candidate Jeremy Garrett will take the controls on this Adding Machine, with David Fisch, who played Queen Elizabeth I, Adolph Hitler and Ronald Reagan in last year's Passion Play, taking on Mr. Zero.

Others in the cast include Caitlin Boho as Mrs. Zero, Lizzy Haberstroh as Daisy, and Storm Angone, Pat Boylan, Trace Gamache, Matt Helms, Dominique Jackson, Drew Mills, Kent Nusbaum, Jenny Oziemkowski, Jason Raymer, Allison Sokolowski, Kelly Steik, Kaitlyn Wehr and Arif Yampolsky in multiple roles.

Jake Wasson will design the set, with Olivia Crosby as costume designer and Deborah Smrz as lighting designer.

I'm not sure what I think of The Adding Machine in the expansive CPA. If ever a show seemed suited to a stripped-down black box, it's this one. But it does have a large cast. And there is that Elysian Fields scenery to think about. So I guess we'll just have to see what Garrett and his cast pull out of the hat to put up the world of Elmer Rice's imagination.

Click here for more information about The Adding Machine and all of ISU's upcoming season.


  1. I had thought that that film version was never shown in the US, but IMDb tells me that it did have some kind of US release; I certainly read about it only in British magazines. It does seem to have been a UK production, with a Brit director, the Irish Mr. O'Shea as Mr. Zero, and supporting cast like Billie Whitelaw and Julian Glover. But my favorite bit of casting is the Mrs. Zero: Phyllis Diller!

    I find it so interesting that Elmer Rice wrote both the classic American example of naturalistic theater (Street Scene) and of expressionistic theater (The Adding Machine). Those are practically opposite poles.

    There aren't a huge number of US examples of the genre in any case: Adding Machine, some early O'Neill, Machinal, Roger Bloomer, and just a few others as far as I know.

  2. I would've sworn that THE ADDING MACHINE was a reaction to METROPOLIS, but THE ADDING MACHINE came first.

    I agree on the odd match of STREET SCENE and THE ADDING MACHINE from the same playwright. When I saw the movie of STREET SCENE, it was my first glimpse of Hell's Kitchen. At least I think it's Hell's Kitchen, as opposed to the Lower East Side of DEAD END, a movie I always confused with STREET SCENE. Neither one has been on TV anytime in the recent past as far as I know.

    If movie of THE ADDING MACHINE (with Phyllis Diller -- good grief!) has ever been on telly, I missed it. I saw the play itself a long time ago, also at U of I, but well before STAIRS TO THE ROOF in my memory. But now that I ponder it, I think I may be thinking of Sophie Treadwell's MACHINAL. Same basic idea, what with killing the boss and living the life of a cog in the machine, but it's a female instead of a male. I definitely saw MACHINAL at U of I. Did I see THE ADDING MACHINE, too? I don't know!