The curtain rises on a familiar domestic scene in the visually splendiferous, well-acted production of "The Adding Machine" that plays through Oct. 7 in the Potiker Theatre at La Jolla Playhouse.
Mr. Zero (Richard Crawford, a marvelously physical, slightly rumpled Everyman with scattered hair and rotund shape) reclines in his chair, while Mrs. Zero (Jan Leslie Harding) in tiresome tones drones on about her martyr-like travails, scrubbing, ironing and cooking. Is the man asleep? Does he listen?
Crawford subtley conveys the seething core of this seemingly benign man, who has worked as a pencil pusher for 25 years in the same company, taking down the sales slip totals as they are dictated to him by his love-smitten clerk, Daisy (Diana Ruppe).
Zero's remote Boss (Paul Morgan Stetler), from whom Zero expects a raise in recognition of his steadfastness, has spoken to him only once, we later learn. Upon learning he's been replaced by an adding machine, Zero "offs" the guy, who represents big business and the mechanization of society. Then he calmly goes home to his TV dinner, followed by an evening of drinks and "hilarity" (actually hollow laughter and racism, sexism, et cetera.) with Mr. and Mrs. One, Two and Three: "If only it weren't for those foreigners and Jews (expletive) and Italians (expletive)"¦." When the Policeman arrives to take him away, Zero says to his wife, "You'll have to dry the dishes yourself. I gotta go now."
Even in a world of workers gone postal, audiences expecting realism will be frustrated. "The Adding Machine" is none of that. Things really get going following Zero's execution (hilariously, in his recliner), when the entire warrens-in-holes revolving set is transformed into Elysian Fields, replete with birdsong, magenta feathers and circles of flowers, beautifully designed by Andrew Lieberman and deliciously lighted by Japhy Weideman. The major flaw in New York director Daniel Aukin's production is the sound. Despite each character being miked, the sound is so diffuse in the in-the-round setup that many words are lost. The New York-, Boston- and Bronx-tinged accents do not help. Articulation has little to do with it.
Scenes in the Elysian Fields are considerably enlivened by the presence of San Diego actor Joshua Everett Johnson, who plays the enigmatic, all-knowing Shrdlu, a matricide perp who in what seems an authoritative manner offers the confused Zero choices. Johnson is best known for his work at New Village Arts Theatre. Daisy, who has committed suicide rather than live without Zero, returns. The denouement is funny, profound and puzzling, but don't we all wonder what happens after the Judgment Day? Zero, who expects eternal flames and unspeakable torments throughout eternity, is surprised.
"The Adding Machine" continues Tuesday through Sunday through Oct. 7 in the Potiker Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive. For tickets and information, visit www.lajollaplayhouse.org or call (858) 550-1010.
When Aaron Sorkin's "The Farnsworth Invention" opens on Broadway Nov. 14 (previews begin Oct. 15), two actors familiar to San Diego audiences, Bruce McKenzie and Spencer Moses, will be in the company. "The Farnsworth Invention" was last season's Page to Stage production at La Jolla Playhouse. Being workshopped Oct. 2-14 at the Playhouse is "Most Wanted," a new musical by Jessica Hagedorn and Mark Bennett with music by Bennett. Michael Greif directs the piece, which explores the dark side of celebrity in the media frenzy that surrounded the arrest of Andrew Cunanan.