ADDING MACHINE is Well-Oiled and Perfectly Timed

ADDING MACHINE is Well-Oiled and Perfectly Timed

(left to right) Patrick Du Laney and Andres Enriquez in The Hypocrites’ production of ADDING MACHINE: A MUSICAL. Photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis.

ADDING MACHINE has some deep roots here in the Chicago theater community, conceived in 2007 at the now retired Next Theatre in Evanston under the loving hand of then Chicago natives David Cromer and Next’s artistic director, Jason Loewith, who co-authored the piece with Joshua Schmidt. It went on to have a healthy Off-Broadway run and was the recipient of the Lucille Lortel for Outstanding Musical and Outer Critics Circle for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical, yet hasn’t received a Chicago revival. It seems only fitting that The Hypocrites should be the ones to renew this tale of woe, and their timing couldn’t be more perfect.

ADDING MACHINE is not going to fill you with hope for the future, or hope for humanity, and it’s certainly not going to give you all the answers to your many questions about the show. What it will do is hook you from the moment you walk into the theater, and it will most certainly give you a very uncomfortable glimpse into a certain voting demographic that aligns itself with a certain politician best known for his swooping combover and tiny hands.

We enter the life of Mr. Zero, who has worked the same job, at the same workstation for twenty-five years. Never late, never sick. On the day of his twenty-fifth work anniversary, he’s expecting a promotion but gets let go instead, which sets off an unraveling of a life that is already held together by a thin thread. 

Under the direction of Geoff Button, the cast pours their heart and soul into the piece, and it’s not a work that lends itself to that so easily. From intricate harmonies to staccato choreography, to multiple characters telling multiple stories, the ensemble of the ADDING MACHINE never falters, never relents, and isn’t afraid to take you to an uncomfortable place. The cast is, appropriately, a well-oiled machine, and it’s beautiful to watch.

Button’s staging is a feast for the eyes and right in line with the harsh world that ADDING MACHINE occupies. Mike Durst’s lighting design feels like the 10th member of the cast, and one you know the production wouldn’t be nearly as successful without. But the night belongs to Patrick Du Laney and Kelli Harrington for their portrayals of Mr. and Mrs. Zero. Chicago newcomer Du Laney’s Zero is a guy you can’t decide if you want to succeed or want to slap. Zero’s Confession is an uncomfortable glimpse into the deep seeded anger felt by many Americans, an anger that fuels much of the hate-filled politics we’re experiencing during this election cycle. Zero is a lazy, boring, bigoted slave, so willing to follow blindly, to believe he’s owed everything – but he’ll do nothing to deserve it. He has no place for those not like him in his life, and yet you find yourself at times wanting him to succeed, to take a step forward instead of choosing slavery to the ‘machine’. Deep inside there is a man who is better than what we see on the outside, but he just can’t force himself to choose something better. Du Laney plays all this and more with an eagerness and honesty that is as accessible as it is repulsive.

Harrington’s use of her soprano register and ability to slide between her break is impressive. It takes an incredible amount of control to navigate Mrs. Zero’s music, and Harrington didn’t disappoint. She and Du Laney bristle with a chemistry that draws them together and at the same time pulls them apart. You feel for Mrs. Zero, and you hate her. Much like the rest of the show, you can’t decide which side of the fence you want to sit on.

ADDING MACHINE is not a safe and universally known musical, and it’s not going to be for everyone, but The Hypocrites do a damn fine job with the material. It’s a welcomed addition to our spring season, and I’m glad to see it back home in Chicago.

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About author

Abigail Trabue

Abigail has worked as an actor/director in Chicago for over ten years, and along with husband Jason Epperson founded Lotus Theatricals in 2015, and PerformInk Chicago and Kansas City in 2016 (where she serves as Managing Editor of both publications). When not talking shop, Abigail is raising three padawans with Jason, drinking lots of coffee, converting school buses into RV's, and eating all the foods at Disney World. You can find her on Twitter @AbigailTrabue