The largest and richest corporations of our country are laying people off left and right in hopes to stay afloat in a competitive capitalist society we call home. There was a time when a loyal employee would receive a gold watch or a fountain pen for his 10th, 15th, or 25th anniversary with a company. Now, all anyone is receiving is a termination notice and a request to empty out your desk by 5:00 p.m.
Adding Machine: a Musical, an adaptation of Elmer Rice’s 1923 play, centers around the spiritless character of Mr. Zero. Our protagonist is not a rebel, he is not an adventurer, he is a middle-aged numbers man who likes to play it safe. Ambition plays no part in Mr. Zero’s life and after 25 years of faithful service to his company, an adding machine replaces Mr. Zero.
The story of Mr. Zero is familiar to many of us, especially in today’s cutthroat industrial backwards revolution. GableStage at the Biltmore presents a small cast of nine, along with two musicians, and director Joseph Adler, to tell the story of a man at the end of his wits. Veteran actress Maribeth Graham plays Mrs. Zero, a discouraged woman who finds nothing more to do than openly vent her frustrations against her spineless husband, “I was a fool for marrying you,” she sings. Though we are tempted to sympathize for the verbally abused Mr. Zero, we also deeply feel Mrs. Zero’s frustration with a time when women did not have many other options than to marry, keep a clean house, and hope for her man to take care of the rest. As the play follows Mr. Zero, played by Oscar Cheda, to his job, the purposefully monotonous music of Joshua Schmidt makes us feel as desperate as Mr. Zero must have felt each day.
The music finally stops at quitting time, where an excited and suddenly bubbly Mr. Zero meets with his boss, expecting nothing short of a promotion for his 25 years. Instead, Mr. Zero gets “canned!” The play follows Mr. Zero from his trial for the murder of the efficiency-driven boss, all the way to his reincarnation. His journey is filled with ominous music, philosophical discoveries, religious encounters, and run-ins with his past. GableStage’s Mr. Zero is intense and overwhelming. Its musical numbers impose Mr. Zero’s hopelessness upon the audience forcing them to relate to his every desperation.