Monday, May 9, 2011

Math and Music At The Skylight

Skylight Opera Theatre presents Josh Schmidt’s ADDING MACHINE

By Russ Bickerstaff
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A brief description of Elmer Rice'™s 1923 play The Adding Machine is positively surreal. The bizarre plot involves a humble employee of a large corporation being replaced by a machine, killing his former boss, being put to death, waking-up and waking-up in the afterlife only to be sentenced to "œrecycling," back in the world of the mortals. This is truly, truly weird stuff for 1923. Kind of ahead of its time.

The play was recently turned into a musical by Milwaukee native Josh Schmidt. Schmidt'™s musical debuted in Chicago and promptly won a Joseph Jefferson Award. It later debuted off-Broadway and won four Obies. The musical makes its way to Milwaukee courtesy of a production by the Skylight Opera Theatre.

Rice'™s story tells the tale of Mr. Zero. Zero's a man working for a big, faceless company. After a quarter century on the job, Zero finds out that he will be replaced . . . by an adding machine. I remember an old statistics professor in college mentioning this in a class lecture--”evidently back in the days before information technology crawled out onto the office floor heaving and panting with great, ghastly gears and suchlike, the term "œCalculator," was used to refer to a job position. I don'™t know how much one could get paid to be a calculator, but such was the lot of some people. Things change, of course . . . and there were likely a lot of people like Zero suddenly looking for employment when adding machines became reasonably affordable. In any case, Zero gets upset and kills his former boss. Then he'™s hanged. Things get a bit weird from there.

Though it debuted elsewhere, Schmidt had the Skylight in mind when he'd written the piece. (I guess getting the Jeff and a few Obies was just his was of submitting the piece to the Skylight.) "œMy career radiates outwardly in concentric circles from my formative experiences in Milwaukee," says Schmidt in an early press release.

I absolutely love the idea of Ray Jivoff playing Mr. Zero. Jivoff has all the right humanity and personality to play sort of an everyman thrust into action due to sudden and tragic unemployment. This looks like it could be a very, very fun show.

The Skylight Opera Theatre'™s production of The Adding Machine runs May 20th “June 12th at the Broadway Theatre Center'™s Cabot Theatre.

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