Wednesday, April 23, 2008
New York, Spring 2008 -- Day Seven, "Adding Machine"
Although the music in the new operetta at the Minetta Lane, "Adding Machine" sounds nothing like what Van Morrison would write, a line from one of his songs comes to mind: "Precious time is slipping away -- you know you're only king for a day. Doesn't matter to which god you pray -- precious time is slipping away."
For Mr. Zero, the beaten-down anti-hero of this brilliant new work from composer Joshua Schmidt (with lyrical assistance from Jason Loewith), his precious time has already run out. He just doesn't know it yet.
Zero hates women. At least his shrill wife, Mrs. Zero. He does seem to have a soft spot for Daisy, the younger woman who assists him at work. Daisy and Zero are a team of calculators: she reads the figures from sales slips, he writes them down and adds them up in his ledger book with a fountain pen. But who needs human calculators when the brand new adding machine (the work is based on a 1923 play by Elmer Rice) is there to do the work faster, more accurately and at a far lower cost?
The story is highly melodramatic, but told in a highly expressionistic style. I don't want to give away much about the story itself, because I hope you'll have the chance to see it yourself. Though I'm not generally a giant fan of recitative, or the talk-singing that often links songs within an opera or operetta, this production seems to have found a way to make the recitative both more musical and more dramatic. Then, when a more conventional tune pops up, like the delightful, romantic "I'd Rather Watch You," it seems to glisten even brighter.
I loved almost everything about "Adding Machine." Every scene, every sequence seems to have its own visual signature, its own way of building the story from the inside out. The lighting (kudos to lighting designer Keith Parham) is bold, elegant and edgy, the sets (Takeshi Kata) are simple but effective, and the video projections (Peter Flaherty) add dimension to scenes without calling attention to themselves.
The performers are top-rank, with big voices and a sure presence on stage. All are terrific, but Amy Warren (as Daisy) deserves special mention for treating us to her big, sweet voice. When she opens her mouth, you know she truly feels what she's singing.
Director David Cromer also deserves praise for his powerful and efficient storytelling. The opening scene, with Mr. and Mrs. Zero in bed -- with the set designed in such a way that we in the audience feel we are looking down at them from above -- quickly establishes the claustrophobia and limited options in Mr. Zero's life. Then we are immediately thrown into Zero's work life, with a brilliant, rhythmic fugue of boredom as three calculating teams call out the numbers that fill their days, AND the dreams that fill their minds.
"Adding Machine" never lets you really get comfortable. There is always some new way of expressing an emotion or calling attention to lost opportunities. Yet it's an entirely pleasurable evening. I found myself smiling over and over at the cleverness of a lyric, or the way attention was called to a character's emotional state, or how a tune will swell on a completely unexpected, as it did on "and then came the leg of lamb!" The story -- like most operatic works -- is a tragic one. I don't think I'll spoil the show for you by saying that Mr. Zero does not end up in a happier place. But you will, if you make your way to the Minetta Lane Theatre for "Adding Machine." Best show of the trip so far.