Brave New World
Two Plays We Love About Life, Death, and What Comes After
New Century Theatre Company at ACT Theatre
Through Dec 13.
Only an actor with the acumen and talent of Amy Thone could start a play with a 1,300-word monologue of banality from a nagging housewife ("you ain't much to be proud of") and turn it into a polyphonic prologue about work, sex, sexism, death, and suffering that makes you hang on every word. But The Adding Machine is nothing if not a dense concentration of acumen and talent.
For its premier production, the New Century Theatre Company—profiled in Theater News to the right—has created a highly choreographed, highly stylized, and roundly excellent performance of The Adding Machine, an underproduced American Expressionist play from 1929 by Elmer Rice. Ostensibly, it is a story about the life, death, and afterlife of a henpecked accountant named Mr. Zero. On Mr. Zero's 25th anniversary with his company ("and I never missed a day!"), he gets laid off to be replaced, according to his boss, by an adding machine: "They do the work in half the time and a high-school girl can operate them!" Mr. Zero goes berserk, goes to jail, and dies. And that's just the first half.
The Adding Machine is agitprop for several causes—idleness, free love, reincarnation—but its strength is its sympathetic satire of the anxious, frustrated workaday schlubs who (on earth and beyond) choose their own hell. Early in the play, six couples show up at the Zero household for a party. The actors all wear whiteface and black lips, and the stark onstage lighting—wheeled around unobtrusively by the actors—reveals them as a pack of pallid zombies. The men and women separate to recite a scherzo of gender clichés (Mr. Three: "Business conditions sure are bad"; Mrs. Three: "Men sure get me tired"). They only unite to chant, standing in a white-faced, black-lipped line: "Damn dagos! Damn Catholics! Damn sheenies! Damn niggers!"
Forty years after it was written, Rice's argument would be reduced—over innumerable bongs in innumerable dorm rooms—to "drop out of the system, maaaan." Rice's play, obviously, is more eloquent. And NCTC, under the direction of John Langs (Louis Slotin Sonata, a Romeo and Juliet that bests everything else the Seattle Shakespeare Company has ever produced), gives that eloquence tongue, gesture, and style. As Thone delivers her opening monologue, Mr. Zero (Paul Morgan Stetler) sits limply over his dinner, mouth-breathing and driving the audience into fits of laughter with the merest eye twitch or lip curl. The ensemble puts in excellent work—Jennifer Lee Taylor as a suicidal office drone, Darragh Kennan as a twitchy, religious kid who was executed for matricide (and is disappointed he didn't wind up in hell). The writing is sly, the design is clever, and the cast means it. This debut is the most exciting thing to happen in Seattle theater in a long time. Go. BRENDAN KILEY
Through Dec 6.
On the night of receiving a major award in Washington, D.C., a famous and married American writer, Stanley (Paul Custodio), is seduced by a stranger—a young woman, Pamela (Angela DiMarco), who is not made of flesh and blood but, as it turns out, is a concentrated creation of the author's fictions. As Adam slept with a woman made from his own rib, the author sleeps with a woman made from his own imagination. But this is just the start of the complication. As the play progresses, we realize that the author is as much a literary creation as his own literary creation. If sense is to be made out of these difficulties, we must separate So Many Words from reality: Those who look for plausibility in its plot and characters will be as disappointed as a man grasping at a thread of smoke rising from an incense stick. This play by Roger Rueff is not only well-written and, for the most part, performed with the right mood and tempo, but is also theater in the heady condition of theory. The theory (in the original sense of that word—to see, to make visible to the eyes) attempts to see what drives a man or woman to write fiction. Is it fame? Is it love for humankind? Is it sheer necessity—one must write because writing is a must? Stanley, the author in So Many Words, has a dark reason for writing, and its exposure constitutes the end of the play. Once we learn why he writes, we know why Rueff invented these characters, the fancy hotel room, and a plot that hinges on the death of a young boy. CHARLES MUDEDE