Chicago Theatre Review
Where the Mundane Becomes Miraculous
The Adding Machine – The Hypocrites
The humdrum, day-to-day existence of a man who’s spent 25 years doing the same, boring job, lovelessly married to the same annoying woman, has never been depicted with more intensity. Mr. Zero’s daily routine begins and ends in exact the same way. His days repeat over and over again, with little variation, until finally the inevitable occurs. As this musical one-act travels onward toward an unexpected time and place, its unpredictable conclusion becomes all the more startling and eye-opening.
Mr. Zero works in a colorless job where he’s continually dictated numbers and figures and must add them up manually. Each day he comes home to his gossip-chattering, unaffectionate wife. His only glimmer of joy is found in a gentle, unspoken flirtation with his coworker, Daisy Devore. On the anniversary of his many years of service, Mr. Zero hopes he’ll now be recognized for his skill and devotion and be promoted to a supervisory position. Instead, his boss tells him his job is being terminated. He’s going to be replaced by an adding machine that will be more cost efficient for the company. Devastated by this tragic news, the man responds by murdering his boss and is sent to prison, where he’s sentenced to death. However, as it turns out, this is only the beginning of Mr. Zero’s story.
Jason Loewith, celebrated Chicago theatrical artist and artistic director of Next Theater, collaborated with composer Joshua Schmidt to adapt Elmer Rice’s 1923 Expressionistic play into a 90-minute musical for his Evanston-based company. Originally directed by David Cromer, the critically acclaimed new work moved to Off-Broadway in 2008, with most of the original Chicago cast. There it became the recipient of the Lucille Lortel and the Outer Critics Circle Awards for Outstanding New Musical. This adaptation still maintains all the power of the original classic play, but is a good deal more economic. Rice’s motifs and ideas are amplified through Loewith and Schmidt’s succinct script, potent lyrics and dissonant music. The often jarring, unmelodious score perfectly embodies and accentuates Rice’s nightmarish story.
Directed by Hypocrites member Geoff Button, this new production is magnificently conceived, staged and performed. All the passion of Loewith and Schmidt’s work is played out within just a few feet of the audience who surround the acting area. The mostly sung-through score, featuring songs like “In Numbers,” “I’d Rather Watch You,” “Freedom” and the ironic “Harmony, Not Discord,” is musically directed by the brilliant Matt Deitchman. The cast is skillfully accompanied by Ellen K. Morris, Nick Graffagna and Anthony Scandora, three talented musicians tucked away within the shadows of Lauren Nigri’s fluid scenic design. Mike Durst’s moody illumination, Joe Court and Brandon Reed’s fresh sound design and Izumi Inaba’s expressive costumes all give additional depth to this production.
But, besides the unflinching story, the strength of Mr. Button’s production lies in his superb cast. Patrick Du Laney is extraordinary as Mr. Zero. Not only is this talented actor an accomplished singer, the spectrum of emotion displayed on Mr. Du Laney’s face and in his body language says everything. Lovely Kelli Harrington is perfect as the shrewish, social climbing Mrs. Zero. This talented actress/singer vocally carries the first fifteen minutes of the story, singing some of the most difficult music since Kurt Weill. These two actors share one of the most beautiful, memorable scenes of the production, as they meet for the last time in Mr. Zero’s jail cell, just hours before his execution.
Neala Barron is beautiful, heartbreaking and stalwart as Daisy, Bear Bellinger is commanding as fellow death row prisoner Shrdlu and Andres Enriquez is dislikably smarmy and controlling as the Boss, also prevailing in two other supporting roles. The gifted ensemble, each of whom play several characters, is comprised of the excellent Tyler Brown, Laura McClain, John Taflan and Jonah D. Winston.
This strongly emotional musical drama may not be for every taste. This isn’t a fluffy Lerner and Loewe or Rodgers and Hammerstein piece. But for those theatergoers who like their entertainment dark and provocative, laden with a myriad of motifs and morals and with more bite than balm, this musical takes the mundane and makes it miraculous.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented March 18-May 15 by The Hypocrites at the Den Theatre’s Main Stage, 1329 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by going to www.the-hypocrites.com.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com