Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Adding Machine Review

So, i read this review of the adding machine, and i really disagree with it, so i'm gonna talk about it some more. review Martin Denton · February 24, 2008
The reviewer and i agree on the first couple scenes, they are excellent expressions of mindless drudgery with very interesting music. Then the reviewer says "for the remaining four scenes, Adding Machine starts to veer badly off what we thought its course was." The veering is what kept the play interesting to me, the fact that it kind of spins out of reality going to the next level and the next level of "vulgar self-reference and/or irreverence" kept me mentally engaged with what was going on. The conversation about the killing of the mother "generates laughs rather than shock or empathy" because we aren't supposed to empathize with characters who are caught up in self-defeating guilt loops or personal struggles. We're supposed to criticize them.
The reviewer complains that "Mr. Zero's condition as an insignificant cog in an eternal machine doesn't seem to be the point of the show anymore; instead it seems to become a starting-point for jokes at his (our?) expense" yes, i agree, this is true, and it's excellent! Mockery of mediocrity IS funny, and attacking the mediocrity in your audience is challenging your audience. This is what theatre ought to do!
He then complains that the music "never again rises to the excellence of those first two scenes" of course the music changes after the first scenes, in the first scenes the music is expressing a certain kind of life, which Mr Zero left when he stabbed his boss with a bill file. This shift makes Mr Zero's act and liberating inssurection, rather than a sin. The point isn't "mechanization drives us to do bad things, like killing our boss" it's "killing your boss isn't necessarily a bad thing". The reviewers complaints about the set design, dark lighting, fake limiting heaven, etc all also support the themes of the play, i think. I don't know, i can't really judge these things because i watched the play from the student rush seats, which are so close to the stage that i saw more of the inside of the actor's noses than the full set design. The "scattershot" performances are effective as well. The Zeroes are mediocre, they're flat, and should be acted flatly. Shrdlu is a romantic wildman, reaching hieghts and depths that Mr Zero can't mentally process, and he was played accordingly.
This last paragraph is what's really got me interested in the review though:
"I left Adding Machine baffled by its authors' intent. They've based their work on one of the earliest American experiments with expressionism, a piece rife with social commentary and conscience. But today's world is very different from the world that Rice was critiquing 80-some years ago, and consequently many of the play's concerns feel dated. While the fundamental human question at its center—how a man loses all of his will, all of his individuality—seems diminished in this new version, which features a different ending from Rice's play, with Mr. Zero suddenly and unaccountably engaging a heroic act. What does that mean?"
He's simultaneously complaining that the play departs from the original and that the concerns in the play feel dated. I think the problem is that he's viewing the play with aristotilian assumptions (we should sympathize with the characters, the characters actions are heroic, etc). My reading of the play without those assumptions leads me to conclude that it isn't about "how a man loses all of his will, all of his individuality" it's about how a man CHOOSES to give up his will and accept servitude. Josh's script blames Mr Zero. Ending with Mr Zero "suddenly and unaccountably engaging in a heroic act" means that such an act is possible, that this choice CAN be made. but Mr Zero (and the audience) chooses not to do such things. We haven't lost our will to machines, we've failed to protect and exercize our will, and blaming machines for it is just an excuse that allows us to continue to do so. This gives the new version FAR MORE important social commentary than the original, because it holds each and everyone of us responsible on an existential level, for our lot in life, and for the social conditions we live in.

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