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Beware of Tech Innovation and Social Change - Review: The Adding Machine

Updated: Mar 18, 2019

CSN’s current presentation of “The Adding Machine” smoothly integrates all production elements, and a well-rounded ensemble cast, to effectively transport the audience away from their handheld devices back to the 1920’s.

The entire cast is exceptionally polished, comfortable and consistent in their performances during this thoroughly enjoyable theatrical experience in the intimate Backstage Theatre -- deserving of a delicious 4 Stars!

Written by Pulitzer-Prize winner Elmer Rice, “The Adding Machine” is a 1923 landmark of American Expressionism, which takes us through the firing, murder trial, execution, and journey to the afterlife of Mr. Zero – an accountant who is replaced by a machine.

Upon entering the theatre, we are stopped by three workers holding clipboards and standing on a platform. They look down on us to assign a rating then point us to seats apportioned to our respective “grade”. Everyone becomes a number.

The set pieces and backdrop include shapes that are triangles, quadrilaterals, and parallelograms in muted colors. The stage floor is painted in similar geometric patterns -- no circles or squares, just straight lines and sharp angles!

Visiting artist Will Lowry served in a multidisciplinary design capacity. As a veteran Broadway designer, these scenic elements and his lighting truly enhance the expressionism of the play.

The whistle blows loudly signaling the start of the first shift (and the play). The ensemble handles the scene change swiftly and efficiently by moving the geometric platforms into position, constructing a bed in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Zero.

Mr. Zero lies on the bed with his eyes open. Mrs. Zero goes on endlessly about her trials, tribulations, and expectations of rewards that should acknowledge today as her husband’s 25th anniversary on the job. Beckie Lookingbill energetically introduces us to cranky Mrs. Zero in this lengthy opening monologue. Her bedtime chatter ultimately succeeds in getting under everyone’s skin.

Mr. Zero never speaks or acknowledges her monologue. There is no human connection between them. Sean Craig Stuart marvelously depicts his emotional disengagement as Mr. Zero throughout. Even as we move into the next scene -- his bleak office at a large, impersonal company -- he tirelessly registers figures by hand, lightly sparring with his nagging but devoted his assistant, Daisy Devore. Ariana Jeter magnificently carries off this sympathetic role as Zero’s would-be mistress.

The lights change and the ensemble executes the scene change as mechanically as before. The marvelously expressionistic format drives both action and dialog in fragmented and unrealistic ways.

Instead of rewarding Mr. Zero for 25 years of service, The Boss delights in telling him that he’s being replaced by an adding machine -- the latest technology. Mr. Zero snaps and kills his boss, is tried and found guilty, then hanged.

We learn from the dramaturgical note “Turn Off The Real, Part 2”: Expressionistic drama is often free-form in its storytelling, and does not tell a logical story. It depends on sharp contrast and distinctions between light and shadow, “us and them”, “man and machine”, “good and evil”.

This element of extremism -- consistent throughout the perfect design elements and across the performances – is even more overstated when Mr. Zero awakens in the “Elysian Fields”, in the afterlife. There is absolute freedom, potential for true love, and few restrictions in this newfound Utopia.

Here we are also introduced to two new, rather humorous characters that leave us hanging on their every word and exaggerated gesture.

Adam Yeager truly wins us over. His adolescent reflection on killing his own mother is so impishly innocent and physically portrayed as to catch us off guard.

Sega Shines, also doubling as The Boss and Young Man, easily morphs the personality of Charles from a meditative yogi to a hypnotic psychic who mesmerizes Mr. Zero by foretelling of Zero’s regeneration.

We are also treated to a most delightful “second coming” of Daisy Devore. Her unrequited love drives her to take her own life and follow Mr. Zero in desperation into the afterlife, where she unsuccessfully exposes him to her more sensual side with a warm kiss -- a short-lived romantic fling.

Mr. Zero falls back into his comfortable rut as an “adding machine”, a function that Charles reveals he has been and will be repeating ad infinitum – even as he makes his final exit with a girl named “Hope”!

Aaron Tuttle is to be commended on his directing and sound design, his selection of an impressive creative team, and for introducing CSN students and local audiences to this groundbreaking piece of American dramatic literature.

Period costume designs were splendidly fashioned by Sherandra Owen, currently a CSN psychology major who took her first theater class last semester.

Voice-and-movement instructor, Kris Pruett, did an excellent job with the expressionistic movement and character-based regionalisms evident across the ensemble voices.

The audience responded most enthusiastically, which bodes well for this production as a participatory entry in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. The production continues at the CSN Backstage Theatre, on the Cheyenne campus, through Nov. 15th.

**Editor's note: this review was corrected for roles mis-identified as played by Sega Shines and Adam Yeager on 11/18/2015 at 6:48pm.

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