The Adding Machine

Elmer Rice was not only a prolific writer; he was extremely versatile covering a myriad of genres including Drama, Comedy, Musical, Romance, Mystery, Documentary, and Fantasy. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1929 for his controversial Street Scene. He may have been the first American playwright to embrace expressionism with The Adding Machine, currently playing at the Potiker Theatre at La Jolla Playhouse.

Under Daniel Aukin’s able direction, The Adding Machine is as much a social commentary today as it was in 1923. Mr. Zero, Richard Crawford, has spent the last 25 years crunching numbers, a human adding machine. His assistant, Daisy – Diane Ruppe, who is silently in love with him, feeds him the numbers from receipts. With the advent of the adding machine, his skills are no longer needed and he is summarily fired. He takes umbrage to this and the mild-mannered man kills his boss, Paul Morgan Stetler.

Mrs. Zero’s, Jan Leslie Harding, many friends all are just a number. Mr. and Mrs. One, Two, and Three visit the Zeros, each spouting the platitudes and meaningless small talk that makes up so many of our social encounters. Joshua Everett Johnson is Shrdlu, who we meet in Elysian Fields. Shrdlu appears both menacing and compassionate in his dealings with Mr. Zero. Stetler, as well Walter Belenky, Molly Fite, Rufio Lerma, and Diana Ruppe, play multiple roles both on earth and in death. Liz Jenkins and Peter Wylie are Mrs. Three and Policeman.

La Jolla Playhouse and its directors consistently take full advantage of the versatility of the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre. For The Adding Machine the space is configured as a theatre in the round, technically a square. Upon entrance, we are presented with a square stage with round holes at each corner housing a chair. On the west side is a stationary bike in a rectangular whole and on the east side is an opening leading to stairs under the set. Center stage is a large circular hole with a rotating stage in it. This provides the setting for the strange reality of the first act.

At one point the whole stage is flown, leaving the for chairs, the rotating center stage with its furniture. Here is where Daisy finally proclaims her love for Mr. Zero. Alas, the plot thickens. Elmer Rice’s fertile mind creates a new reality.

In the case of The Adding Machine, the use of some of the playhouse’s vast capabilities compliments the script. The cast is excellent. Richard Crawford’s portrayal is an excellent study; from mathematical guru, to disgruntled former employee, to frustrated husband, to confused other-world person, and a romantic interest. Diana Ruppe is charming, first with just a sly look as she rattles off numbers to her boss and then as a dancing romantic in Elysian Fields. It is Joshua Everett Johnson as Shrdlu who brings a new reality and a conclusion to this strange tale.

While The Adding Machine will not appeal to everybody, we are given a grand opportunity to view a style of play that has had resurgence in contemporary times. The production is excellently staged and the technology does not overwhelm the cast.


Walter Belenky, Richard Crawford, Molly Fite, Jan Leslie Harding, Liz Jenkins, Joshua Everett Johnson, Rufio Lerma, Diana Ruppe, Paul Morgan Stetler, Peter Wylie

Technical Staff

Scenic Designer Andrew Lieberman, Costume Designer Maiko Matsushima, Lighting Designer Japhy Weideman, Sound Designer Colbert S. Davis IV, Original Music Cassia Streb, Wig & Hair Designer Mark Adam Rampmeyer, Fight Director Steve Rankin, Dialect Coach Robert Barry Fleming, SM Anjee Nero, Asst SM Heather Toll, Production Manager Linda S. Cooper

Author: Elmer Rice

Director: Daniel Aukin

Date Reviewed: September 16, 2007

Dates: Tuesdays thru Sundays, September 11 through October 7, 2007

Caution Guidance: Contains adult situations

La Jolla Playhouse, Potiker Theatre, UCSD Campus – Professional theater

San Diego, Califronia

Box Office Phone 858 550-1010

Robert Hitchcox is a playwright, critic and fiction author, who reviews live theatre.