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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

Adding Machine
Finborough Theatre   Autumn 2020

The admirable Finborough Theatre has put online a recording of a September 2016 production, and while not a major theatrical event it is well worth ninety minutes of your time.

Adding Machine is a chamber opera music by Joshua Schmidt, libretto by Schmidt and Jason Loewith based on Elmer Rice's 1923 play.

The Rice play is known now primarily as one of the American theatre's brief 1920s flirtations with Expressionism, the theatrical mode that put onstage, not objective reality but a character's experience of it. (In practice this tended to involve nightmare sequences or visual hallucinations, as in Eugene O'Neill's Emperor Jones.)

Rice's play is about a faceless little corporate clerk (literally Mister Zero) who is fired after twenty-five years of bean-counting to be replaced by a mechanical adding machine. He impulsively kills his boss, is convicted and executed, and finds what seems like heaven in an ironic eternity of operating an adding machine until that is stolen from him in a final twist.

Schmidt and Loewith's libretto follows the play pretty closely, Josh Seymour's production conflating a few characters and depicting some settings in new ways.

The music, ranging in mode from romantic to jazzy to discordant as appropriate, effectively serves the dual purpose of underlining emotions and heightening expressionistic sequences beyond ordinary reality. But the story-telling obligation means that most of the sung-through score is recitatif, rising to the level of actual song or aria only occasionally.

There's a yearning-for-romance solo for the co-worker Zero has a chaste office romance with and a prison-set duet with his wife remembering better times together, but for the most part bits of incomplete melody are caught in passing.

Actor-singer Joseph Alessi defines his Zero by befuddlement, as the character walks through life and afterlife trying desperately to catch up to events he can't quite understand, and generates considerable sympathy for the man.

With a lot less to work with, Kate Milner-Evans as the wife, Joanna Kirkland as the girl and Edd Campbell Bird as a fellow prisoner provide solid support.

The single-camera recording does not miss much, though the single microphone doesn't do full justice to all the voices.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Adding Machine - Finborough Theatre Online 2020