Monday, March 31, 2008

O Elvis, Where Art Thou?

"Cry-Baby" at the Marquis Theatre, March 29, 2008

(Photo: Kevin Berne)

Following the Mel Brooks' money trail, John Waters has gotten more involved in the Broadway adaptation of his 1991 film of the same name, than he did with 2003's "Hairspray."

Book writer Thomas Meehan (along with Mark O'Donnell) has managed to avoid the trap he fell into earlier this season with "Young Frankenstein," trying to "formulize" Mr. Brooks' film a la "The Producers." It didn't work then and unfortunately, he not much more successful here. The story feels like a poor man's "Grease" (the original stage production, not the movie) - nice girl falls for the boy from the wrong side of the tracks. There's a nod or two back to Mr. Waters' original with subplots of defamed and executed parents by the sin of omission, and a sociopath-etic stalker. If you're looking for a good 1950's-style musical, you were better off at the now-closed "All Shook Up."

The score, by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger, runs the gamut from Elvis Presley to Jerry Lee Lewis, with an occasional character stop at Perry Como. (It sounds like they've snitched Mr. Sondheim's rhyming dictionary, too, but not the good one he uses now.)

Leading the two-dimensional character charge is the inimitable Harriet Harris as Mrs. Vernon-Williams, the town society grand dame who is raising her granddaughter Sandy Allison (Elizabeth Stanley) after her parents died. Ms. Harris puts Scott Pask's plastic set to the test as she gnaws her way through the show. It's too bad Messrs. Javerbaum and Schlesinger didn't take the time to put her songs in keys that suit her vocal range. It's rather a waste of a remarkable talent.

Ms. Stanley, who gave such a sweet performance as April in last year's revival of "Company" makes all the motions of her leading role. Hopefully she'll get past the deer-in-the-headlights look which remains despite the three weeks of previews she already has under her belt (and has another month to go).

Her Danny Cry-Baby, James Snyder matches Ms. Stanley's look, singing and dancing at a level that would make any American Idol contestant look over his shoulder. If he can find some character to bring along with the two of the required three talents that this leading role requires, he could be on his way to an impressive performing career.

Alli Mauzey gets to have the most fun as Lenora, the psycho-chick in love with Danny Cry-Baby. Her "Screw Loose" is one of the cuter moments in the show.

The ultimate selling point for this show is Rob Ashford's choreography. His dancers shake, rattle and roll with the best of them. Director Mark Brokaw keeps things apace, never letting things slow down long enough to really get to know a character.

Catherine Zuber has pulled some of the nicer pieces she didn't use in "The Light in the Piazza" for the "nice girls," but she does have some fun with the trashy girls (and I loved the lace up stiletto pumps on the female jail guards). Mr. Pask seems to have phoned this design in taking a page from David Rockwell's look recently seen in "Legally Blonde" and to a lesser extent, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." I must say I'm a little disappointed based on his previous work in shows like "The Pillowman," "The Lieutenant of Inishmore," "The Coast of Utopia," and "Take Me Out."

It is a high energy show, much like the less-appealing "Legally Blonde" and should prove once again that you can't underestimate the lack of intelligence of the Broadway tourist.

Melting Down the Nuclear Family

"The American Dream" and "The Sandbox" at the Cherry Lane Theatre, March 27, 2008

Under the direction of the author, these two one-act plays appear to be the first time Mr. Albee revisited a previous play to write something of a prequel. He did this recently with the successful "Peter and Jerry" adding "Homelife" as a prequel to "Zoo Story."

There's not quite the same direct connection here, but we do get two visits with Mommy (Judith Ivey), Daddy (George Bartenieff) and Grandma (Lois Markle). In "The American Dream," Mommy and Daddy are waiting on a visitor, though they're not quite sure whom or why. Mrs. Barker (Kathleen Butler) shows up, also unsure as to why she's there. Finally Grandma tells Mrs. Barker a sordid tale of an infant boy whose adoptive parents mutilate and ultimately kill. No sooner is the story ended that the doorbell rings at the arrival of a tall, handsome and muscular Young Man (Harmon Walsh). He tells his own tale of emptiness, pain and the loss of his twin brother at birth, with events that match up to the torture of the boy Grandma talked about. Grandma uses the young man as an opportunity to escape the bickering, sniping and threats of calling "the van man." Mommy, Daddy and Mrs. Barker discover the Young Man in their living room. Mommy is immediately (if pruriently) attracted to the Young Man, finding something very familiar about him as she flirts. The act ends before revealing any more.

"The Sandbox" opens on a beach where The (very muscular) Young Man (Jesse Williams) speedo-clad this time, stands slowly waving his arms. Mommy and Daddy enter, looking for the right spot to deposit Grandma. It seems Grandma has lived well beyond her usefulness and they seek a convenient spot to facilitate her demise. Daddy carries her in as she squawks and squeals like an infant. Once placed in the sandbox, Mommy brings on The Musician (Daniel Shevlin) to accompany the proceedings on the cello. It gets late, so Mommy and Daddy leave. Grandma then engages The Young Man in conversation, learning that he's been hired to play the role of the angel of death.

Ms. Ivey is a most overbearing, self-centered and obnoxious Mommy, manipulating and intimidating everyone in her path. This Mommy may hear, but rarely listens unless it concerns her own wants.

In Daddy, Mr. Bartenieff is a mouse of a milquetoast, befuddled and more concerned for calmness than clarity.

Of the Young Men offered, Mr. Williams is the more successful of the two. The very handsome Mr. Walsh comes across a bit self-conscious and ill at ease with Mr. Albee's dialogue. Mr. Williams is afforded a bit more leeway with the overt transparency of his purpose on stage.

Ms. Markle's Grandma is the only character who is afforded more than two dimensions. Writhing under the mental torture of her daughter's charity (not that she'd ever be allowed to forget that), hers is the only voice of normalcy among the surrounding navel-gazers.

Having seen Arthur Laurent's direction of "Gypsy" and now Mr. Albee's direction of his own work, I find a similar economy of effort, basic and straightforward, generally allowing the actor to make his/her own way through the role. As with Pinter, it seems that Mr. Albee is also an "actor's playwright." Finding meaningful motivation and subtext amid the absurd plots/scenarios must provide a great and exciting challenge for an actor.

As the author, Mr. Albee has created a scenario he would go on to explore from many different directions, that of dysfunctional family groups and murky stories of children from such unions. I could see a bit of "...Virginia Woolf's" Martha and George in some of Mommy and Daddy's interactions, as well as the unseen child from that play. Many have already discussed the impact of Mr. Albee's own adoptive parents on his writing. I won't attempt further analysis here.

Neil Patel's basic sets and Nicole Pearce's lights neither distract or make significant contribution to the proceedings. Carrie Robbins' costumes are equally serviceable, if unremarkable (though what was up with that poorly attached lace collar/shawl on Grandma's dress and her dreadful shoes?)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Three Studies

"Almost an Evening" at Theatres at 45 Bleecker Street, March 28, 2008

After a sold-out run at the Atlantic Theatre Company earlier this year, Ethan Coen's first foray into theatre has transferred for a commercial off-Broadway run.

Billed as three one-acts, Mr. Coen really seems to have staged three writing exercises as he dips his toe into writing for the stage. Given his success in film, it's not at all surprising that he is looking for a new challenge.

The first act, "Waiting" seems a bit of a riff on Pinter, where Nelson (Joey Slotnick) finds himself in a waiting room with no door and a receptionist who can speak for only the first ten minutes, but will continue typing non-stop. She does reveal that Nelson is dead and is now waiting to get into heaven. He concludes he's in purgatory. The absurdity is revealed that he must wait 822 years before he can move on. With a bureacracy only an American could understand, Nelson's wait extends from 822, to 8,022, to 28,022 years, only to find out in the end that he's already in hell and won't be getting out after visiting Mr. Shebatacheck (Jordan Lage), Mr. McMartin (Mark Linn-Baker) and Polhemus (Del Pentecost) at various points in his wait.

Oh, the reason for ending up in hell? Cursing.

The second tale is "Four Benches" with a cloak and dagger murder of Earl (Mr. Pentecost), an innocent by-stander in a dark steamroom where One (Tim Hopper), presumably a British spy was waiting to meet Mr. Potts (Bench #1). One agrees to meet Earl's father, Mr. Boodrum (J. R. Horne), feeling guilty about the death of his son (Bench #2 - "Earl was a colossus!"). One then meets with Control (F. Murray Abraham) in an attempt to leave the service (Bench #3). He successfully leaves the service and ends up back in a steam room with a Texan (Mr. Lage), yet as he attempts to tell his tale of guilt over Earl's death, it sounds more like he's broken up with a lover. I'll guess that Mr. Coen's inspiration here was Ira Levin based on the mix of mystery and a bit of black humor.

The last scene is "Debate," a debate between God Who Judges (Mr. Abraham) and God Who Loves (Mr. Linn-Baker). With heavy Mametian language (just about everyone says the "f" word, particularly Mr. Abraham), the value of a loving God is weighed against the value of a fearsome God. In a white linen robe and a flowing grey wig, Mr. Abraham is an Old Testament God, via George Carlin. The best lines of the evening are here. GWJ: "It's the Ten Commandments, not the ten f-ing suggestions." "Pierced ears? I didn't like it, but I didn't say anything. I didn't think I had to!" Mr. Linn-Baker's GWL, dressed in a Pee Wee Herman suit and bow tie, complete with pennies in his loafers, is finally pushed to his limit and shoots GWJ. It oddly turns into a play-within-a-play when Mr. Abraham goes to dinner with his Lady Friend (Johanna Day) and is spotted by a Young Man (Mr. Lage) and Young Woman (Mary McCann) who have been debating the performance and it's gender appeal, or lack thereof.

Each act is comic in its own way, with a similar dark flavor as that of Mr. Coen's movies. I found the third offering the most successful even though it strayed bizarrely in the later moments. Director Neil Pepe has done as much as he can with these sketches and certainly enhances the dark comedy with his greatly talented cast. There is no weak link to be found among them.

Ricardo Hernandez' slick set adapts well for the various scenes and is nicely enhanced by Donald Holder's lighting. Ilona Symogi's wardrobe is suitably inconspicuous.

Mr. Coen, welcome to the theatre - I hope you've enjoyed your first foray. I look forward to a a complete evening with your next effort.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Truly Enchanted Evening

"South Pacific" at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center, March 22, 2008

I'm always distressed when I hear people dismiss the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Sadly, the general thought is of fluff, sappy-sweet and "family friendly" musicals with little else to say.

It's just not true.

Buoyed by the extended run of "The Light in the Piazza" two seasons ago, Lincoln Center Theatre landed the rights to produce the first official Broadway revival of "South Pacific" since its original run of 1949-1953. Reuniting much of the creative team from TLITP also added to the successful bid to the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, including Bartlet Sher (director), Michael Yeargin (sets), Catherine Zuber (costumes) and Ted Sperling (musical director).

The result is truly enchanting.

I will admit a true fondness for this show, having appeared in a local production in September of 2001. The events of that month certainly impacted my feelings about the issues and topics explored. (BTW, I played Luther Billis - one of the great roles of the musical theatre.)

This production is a restoration in a sense. The musical orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett for the 30-piece pit orchestra are from the original 1949 production at the Majestic Theatre using all existing material, including manuscripts, the full orchestral scores and the individual instrumental parts played at the time. The effect of a such a large orchestra is unmatchable, highlighted by a retracting stage floor which reveals the orchestra at the beginnings of both acts.

Based on James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific, it follows the lives of US service men and women and the natives on the islands they occupy during WWII.

As Nellie Forbush, Kelli O'Hara brings a refreshing, open vulnerability and reality to the role instead of the spunky yet a bit naive interpretation to which one is often accustomed. Her joy at admitting her love for her "wonderful guy" is contagious and her distress when she learns about Emile's children is palpable. She is in terrific voice, particularly in her emotional shading during her reprise of "Some Enchanted Evening" when she finally realizes that her love for Emile is more important to her than anything else she's known.

Her Emile, winningly portrayed by Brazilian tenor, Paulo Szot also avoids the usual grey-headed aging Frenchman. Being a gentleman of a certain age myself, it's nice to see a 44 year old character portrayed as a trim and attractive man with a full head of still-dark hair and only a hint of grey at the temples. Though his tempos are at times a bit indulgent (particularly "This Nearly Was Mine"), his Emile is always deliberate and sure. He certainly justifies Captain Brackett's statement about younger women appreciating the maturity of an older man.

There's excellent chemistry between these two, which is key to making this show work. R&H were famous for creating mismatched pairs, separated by age and circumstance, but allowing love to overrule. Ms. O'Hara and Mr. Szot accomplish this beautifully.

The young lovers Lt. Cable and Liat are Andrew Samonsky (at this performance) and Li Jun Li, respectively. Mr. Samonsky makes a great effort, but his very young and sweet tenor voice doesn't quite have the power to evoke the passion burning inside his handsome Cable. Ms. Li, in
basically a silent role, captures the innocence (though I've always been troubled by Bloody Mary's pimping her out to him so soon after he arrives on the island).

As Bloody Mary, Loretta Ables Sayre in her NY debut brings the requisite deadpan pragmatism of the Tonkinese capitalist, taking full advantage of the economic opportunities afforded by the US military presence.

As her easiest mark is Danny Burstein in my the role of Luther Billis. Mr. Burstein's interpretation reminds me significantly of Bert Lahr and I begrudgingly happily applaud his efforts. (My "Honey Bun" belly-roll was better, though.)

I do have one question about song placement. "My Girl Back Home" seemed a misfit so early in Act I since it's prior to Cable meeting Liat and Nellie learning about Emile's children. From what I remember of the movie version, it came later after these plot points had been revealed.

Director Bartlett Sher gives us a superior cast and a thoughtfully detailed evening without falling into sentiment. He's made some potentially difficult choices in his handling of the racism issues that run through the show. First, he's segregated the black mechanics from the white seabees (BTW, seabees = CBs = Construction Brigade) and the two groups never mingle when they're on stage at the same time. This is first pointedly demonstrated when Nellie and Cable are talking about their families back home and how they disapprove of people who are different. The effect is quite powerful. It happens again in Act II after the Thanksgiving show when Nellie rejects Emile, telling him, "It's something that's born in you" then runs off. Aided by Christopher Gatelli's musical staging, the result is never too slick and balances the fine line of reality and theatricality.

Michael Yeargin's sets, complemented by Donald Holder's lights make it very warm for a NYC March, beautifully evoking the island location. Pay attention to the scrim during "Bali Hai" - it's kinda magical. Catherine Zuber's costumes are typically spot-on.

It's only scheduled to run into June. I hope that's not the case. I'd like to see this enchanted evening stay around for the nice long run it deserves - - I want to see it again.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Drinks & the City

"The Drunken City" at Playwrights Horizons, March 21, 2008

Adam Bock's new play at Playwrights Horizons is an 80 minute extension of what might have been a very effective episode of "Friends" or "Sex and the City." Marnie (Cassie Beck), Melanie (Maria Dizzia) and Linda (Sue Jean Kim) are engaged (shrieks!!) all within two weeks of each other (shrieks!!). As good Jersey girls, they go into the city to celebrate - with too many cocktails and not unexpected results. They meet Eddie (Barrett Foa), the gay, tap-dancing dentist and his friend Frank (Mike Colter), whose last girlfriend dumped him because he didn't listen to her (that's what she said when she dumped him) on the streets during their bar crawl. Frank and Marnie are immediately drawn to each other, to the great consternation of their friends.

As expected, Marnie doesn't really want to marry Gary (her fiance'). Melanie dumps her fiance' when she finds out he cheated on her and Linda can't handle the possibility that things won't turn out like she wants them too (her drinking doesn't help). Linda calls Bob (Alfredo Narciso) who owns the NJ bakery where Marnie and Melanie work, to come sort things out. While the drama whirls around them, Bob and Eddie lock eyes and face off in what Mr. Bock (in his program notes) compares to Beatrice and Benedict from "Much Ado About Nothing."

The revelations and resolutions are not really surprising, but are handled genuinely. Mr. Bock does have a knack for capturing the incomplete phrasing of people who can finish each others' sentences, as well as that uncomfortable stilted dialog that occurs when there's some heavy sexual attraction at play, but neither party wants to reveal his/her cards first.

As Marnie, Ms. Beck gives the strongest performance of the women. The first of the three to accept her ring, it turns out she said yes before she really realized what the question had been (BTW, her fiance' had dated Melissa before he and Marnie got together). She gives Marnie the right level of realism in the early drunk scenes, faring best when the three women are onstage together.

As Frank, the new object of Marnie's affection, Mr. Colter is handsome and appealing, but a bit wooden and self-conscious in his delivery.

Ms. Dizzia's Melanie is little more than a bitter harpie, harboring resentment for Marnie which results in a major meltdown between them. Ms. Kim's Linda gets stuck with lines that speak the obvious. She doesn't quite master the profile of a young woman with a drinking problem, despite the strange theatrical monologue and song that pop up so oddly to describe her fear and fascination of the city when she drinks.

Mr. Foa's Eddie comes off nicely. He manages to balance his concern over his friend with remaining something of a calm voice amid the hysteria that surrounds his and Frank's meeting with the women. I found his discomfort over his attraction to Bob appropriately bittersweet. As Bob, Mr. Narciso brings the same intensity last seen in his performance in "The Misanthrope" at New York Theatre Workshop (minus the food fight). He finds some touching layers in the defensive, yet vulnerable character.

Director Trip Cullman has assembled a pretty cast of six, and some of them can really act, too. He treats some segments like a farce, though that poses for some rough transitions from time to time. Still, he gives the audience an entertaining evening with some things that many of us may recognize in ourselves at the same time.

David Korins' spare set is a clean canvas for the proceedings, and coordinates well with Matthew Richards' lighting.

Here's a discount offer from Playwrights Horizons:



A new play by Adam Bock


Cassie Beck • Mike Colter • Maria Dizzia
Barrett Foa • Sue Jean Kim • Alfredo Narciso

Directed by Trip Cullman

March 13 – April 20

Playwrights Horizons Peter Jay Sharp

416 West 42nd Street between 9th & 10th Avenues

“Hey, why not write a play where everyone is drunk – that way truth’ll be flying every which everywhere.” - Adam Bock

Off on the bar crawl to end all crawls, three twenty-something brides-to-be find their lives going topsy-turvy when one of them begins to question her future after a chance encounter with a recently jilted handsome stranger. The Drunken City is a wildly theatrical take on the mystique of marriage and the ever-shifting nature of love and identity in a city that never sleeps.

Special Discount offer for Bloggers Posts: $35 tickets (REG. $45) for all performances

How to order (purchase by March 26 and mention code ‘DCBL’ to receive discount):

  • Online: and use code DCBL
  • Phone: Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 (Noon-8pm daily) and mention code DCBL.
  • In person: Ticket Central, 416 West 42nd Street between 9th & 10th Avenues

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Don't Cry for Me, Styne and Sondheim - Take 2

"Gypsy" at the St. James Theatre, March 13, 2008

I'll hold firm to my review from last summer "out of town tryout" underwritten by at Encores!, except to say that Patti now sports a sassy red wig and I think Laura Benanti is the most amazing Louise I've ever seen.

The new question now is:

"Who's Mama Rose in the next Gypsy revival?"

My money is on Faith Prince.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Finding Focus on a Dream

"The Conscientious Objector" presented by the Keen Company at the Clurman Theatre, Theatre Row, March 11, 2008

Michael Murphy's play presents us with Martin Luther King, Jr. at the height of his reign as a civil rights leader. The program notes that while it " first and foremost a play. It is a dramatization and some liberties were taken." Personally, I can only vaguely remember when Dr. King was shot in Memphis in 1968, so I cannot speak to the historical accuracy in Mr. Murphy's work, or lack thereof.

What Mr. Murphy does give us in his interpretation of Dr. King (DB Woodside), is a reluctant and unsure man. The evening begins in 1965 when Dr. King first spoke out against the Vietnam War. Mr. Murphy puts forth that Dr. King felt compelled to take this position despite the fact that it would pull him away from the civil rights struggle. He has written a Dr. King who practically bows and scrapes in the first meeting we see with Lyndon Johnson (John Cullum). President Johnson needs Dr. King to back off the Vietnam issue so that he can continue to get similar legislation passed to the Voting Rights Act. King retreats briefly, but can't disregard the issue for the sake of politics. His advisers, Ralph Abernathy (Bryan Hicks), Stanley Levison (Steve Routman), Andrew Young (James Miles) also want him to choose his battles and stay with those he can win. James Bevel (Jimonn Cole) is the lone dissenter of his supporters and keeps pushing him to fight against the Vietnam war.

Mr. Woodside's King is certainly the reluctant hero. His resolve only forms when pushed forward by others whom he respects, or when forced on the defensive. I'm afraid, though, Mr. Woodside (and Mr. Forsman) have been very poorly served by their dialect coach, Meagan Prahl. I've complained about inaccurate southern accents before, and Mr. Woodside's is simply appalling. I would much rather he had spent his time finding the rhythm and music in King's voice and making the role his own. Consider the choices that Frank Langella and Anthony Hopkins made in their respective interpretations of Richard Nixon. Neither imitates, yet both captured the character in vastly different ways.

Note to Ms. Prahl: While I congratulate you on your first coaching gig, be informed that substituting "uh" for "er" sounds and "eh" for "ee" do not a southern accent make. I have no idea where you grew up, but the Brown/Trinity Consortium pedigree leads me to conclude it was well above the Mason-Dixon Line. I know you're excited about your coaching debut in NYC, but you may want to consider spending your coaching fee to pay the Keen to reprint their playbills without your credit for the remainder of the run.

As Lyndon Johnson, Mr. Cullum (thankfully) avoids an imitation of the late president. He also had significant struggles getting his lines out. Having been in previews for a week, one might expect more from such an accomplished actor.

Rachel Leslie's Coretta Scott King gets little do to, other than look lovely and concerned. Seemed a bit of a waste of talent to me.

Mr. Cole's James Bevel suffers from the substitution of volume for passion at the expense of diction and clarity. Bryan Hicks as Ralph Abernathy couldn't pick up a cue if the other actors dropped it in his lap. Jonathan Hogan, in multiple roles, demonstrates the kind of skill one obtains after 25 years with Circle Rep, not to mention his numerous Broadway, film and television appearances. The younger actors in this cast would do well to study his performance and choices.

Director Carl Forsman seems at times overwhelmed by the material (or at least by the actors in it), unable to fine tune performances when needed. At other times, his touches are quite sensitive and thoughtful - the scene when Coretta is boosting Martin up on the telephone, knowing exactly what his physical appearance is and mothering him in support to give.

Once again, Beowulf Boritt's set is the real star of this production. An American flag drapes the back wall and gently raked stage, interpreted in shades of grey - an absence of color yet not reduced to simple black and white. Josh Bradford's lights make a good start, but could use a bit more refinement to distinguish time and location on the abstract set.

I admire the efforts of the Keen Company. I think this is a group who truly attempts to create valid and relevant theatre in New York. I look forward to their next outing.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A Dark Machine

"Add1ng Mach1n3" at the Minetta Lane Theatre, February 29, 2008

(Photo: Carol Rosegg)

Based on Elmer Rice's 1923 play, "The Adding Machine" has been adapted into a dark and sometimes compelling musical. Mr. Rice was a prolific writer/producer, whose first Broadway outing was his play "On Trial" from 1914. Given the excesses of the 1920s, this story is a prescient foreshadow of the darkness to come with the Great Depression. His presence on the Great White Way was a relative constant from then until the mid-1960's, not returning again until the Manhattan Theatre Club's "Lovemusik" in 2007.

With this adaptation, it's easy to see his influence on 20th century theatre in the work of experimental theatre artists like Bertolt Brecht and Marc Blitzstein. It has transferred to New York after an acclaimed run at the Next Theatre Company in Chicago. (Is it necessary to announce a spoiler alert for an 85 year old story?)

Jason Loewith (Artistic Director of Next Theater Company) and Joshua Schmidt have adapted Mr. Rice's work into a sung-through musical that totally captures the style of early 20th century musical composition. Harmonic, "hummable" melodies are not to be found for the most part. This tale is a dark indictment on the increasing mechanization of the late Industrial Revolution and its adverse impact on humanity. Mr. Zero (Joel Hatch) is a 25-year company man, working in the bookkeeping department of a large store. His job is to add sales receipts by hand, assisted by Daisy (Amy Warren) who reads each number to him for recording in a large ledger.

The show opens with Mr. and Mrs. Zero (Cyrilla Baer) lying in bed, while she nags, whines and complains about the life she will likely never have, "Something to Be Proud Of." At work, we learn that Mr. Zero and Daisy are secretly (to everyone and each other) in love with each other. They hide their feelings with constant bickering, each longing to escape with the other to a new life, "I'd Rather Watch You."

Beaten and worn by his 25 years of work and marriage, Mr. Zero's only attainable hope is to be promoted on this 25th work anniversary. Instead, he is laid off since the store has purchased new invention, the titular adding machine, to replace most of their bookkeeping staff. In a rage, Mr. Zero kills his boss and is sentenced to death. On death row, his cell-neighbor Shrdlu (Joe Farrell) also awaits execution for killing his mother. Raised in the shame and fear of religion, Shrdlu longs for the retribution of hell for his crime "The Gospel According to Shrdlu." (An interesting side note: this role was originated by Edward G. Robinson in 1923, "...see.") Mrs. Zero arrives on the eve of his execution for a final visit, bringing him his favorite last meal, "Ham and Eggs!" a waltz that leads to a reconciliation of sorts as they say goodbye "Didn't We?"

In death, Mr. Zero finds himself in an unexpectedly "Pleasant Place," the Elysian Fields filled with sunlight, blue skies, water, flowers and greenery. Shrdlu discovers him and tells him fearfully that it will always be like this. Shrdlu cannot cope without the punishment of hell that he longed for and runs away distraught. Daisy appears (in a great Flory-dory confection of organdy pleats and lace) having committed suicide over the loss of Mr. Zero and finally reveals her feelings "Daisy's Confession." Hoping for an eternal after-life of happiness they reprise "I'd Rather Watch You" but Mr. Zero is unable to forgive himself and enjoy their time together. Shrdlu returns, having accepted his fate, "Freedom" but Mr. Zero cannot accept it and flees to the anonymity and safety of The Machine. He spends another 25 years there mastering the adding machine that pushed him toward his own death, only to be told that it's time to return to life. "Souls are recycled. Think about how crowded it would be here otherwise." Fearful, Mr. Zero begs to stay and learns that his soul has been recycled many, many times by The Machine. Each time, he's made choices that prevented his own happiness: as an Egyptian slave building the Great Pyramids, continually the servant refusing to stand for his own dignity and thus, happiness. He struggles against being returned and seeing Daisy lined up for recycling, grabs her hand and runs with her. Are they running away from a new life or toward it? This is the last unanswered question.

As Mr. Zero, Mr. Hatch is appropriately deadpan and beaten. His only emotions are frustration, anger and fear, being most fearful when happiness looms largest. Ms. Baer's Mrs. Zero is a shrill harpy, resentful that her husband's mediocrity has never raised their lives above mere subsistence.

Mr. Farrell's Shrdlu quite successfully relates the pain and sabotage that results from much of organized religion. He literally quakes in his fear and self-reproach. It is a remarkable performance.

I found Ms. Warren's Daisy to be the most successful performance of the evening. This self-doubting, insecure and damaged Daisy literally blossoms in death, reveling in the freedom of after-life. This woman (originally Daisy Diana Dorothea Devore) longs for the beauty and grace invoked by her name and in an awkward and touching display, and nearly achieves it before being abandoned by man who can't choose happiness. Given what we learn of the history of Mr. Zero's soul, it seems she has lived a similar fate over many lives.

Director David Cromer has assembled a talented (though hardly attractive cast - and appropriately so) to play those with lives of "quiet desperation." Even Daisy's version of beauty in death is only a relative improvement, bringing home the harsh realities the human struggle. His stylized staging excellently evokes the darkness of this tale.

Takeshi Kata's sets support the varying emotions of fear and fleeting hope, but Keith Parham's lighting is even dimmer than that of the foxhole in last year's revival of "Journey's End." Though I can understand the design concept behind it, more often than not I felt that I was missing facial expressions in the shadows that cloaked most of the production. Kristine Knanishu's costumes were spot-on to the period. I could almost feel the scratchy wool of the suits worn by the men.

Similar to my recent experience with "The Homecoming," "The Adding Machine" is not a jolly night at the theatre. Rather, it's a provoking contemplation that reflects back on what a modern world could have looked like.