The Adding Machine: A Play in Seven Acts
Characters: 14 male, 9 female
5 interior scenes and 2 exterior scenes
This constantly interesting play shows in outline the life history and, in its later scenes, the death history of Mr. Zero, a cog in the vast machine of modern business.
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Q. How did you like the book?
A. I only finished the first play and half of the second.Q. Why is that?
A. I got into it out of curiosity about the times Rice wrote about, the 1920s, but the interest faded quickly. By the time I finished "The adding machine" and got through the beginning of "Street scene," I was on to other things, more current, like world population growth. When you're worried about problems today, it's difficult to relax and enjoy things from the past.
Q. So did you enjoy the play you read?
A. Yes, it was very interesting. The protagonist, Mr. Zero, spends all day adding numbers for a business. The boss lets him go when an adding machine comes along to do the work Zero was doing. Zero gets upset. He's been working there for 25 years and expected a raise and promotion. When he gets sacked instead, he murders the boss, is convicted and sent to prison. Eventually, he dies and goes into an afterlife. He is forgiven for what he did, but he is still striving to get ahead. He turns his back on his co-worker, whom he secretly loved. She has arrived in heaven also.
Q. Does the name, Zero, have any significance?
A. I'm sure it does, since his friends were One, Two, Three, and so on. Maybe that they were all just really ciphers, from the perspective of their employers anyway. They were only there to work. In this sense, Rice seemed to have a socialist flavor in this play. The second play, Street scene, is said to be one of his best. It all takes place on a stoop in a residential part of New York City, where many people come and go into an apartment building. I lost interest, though. Nostalgia works sometimes for me, but not here. Maybe I'll come back to it one day. As for Mr. Rice, he seems now like one of those writers who just kind of faded into the past. If there is ever an Elmer Rice revival, I'll be surprised, but gratified. He was somewhat important in his hey day, and wrote an autobiography, "The minority report."