The Adding Machine, by Elmer Rice, is regarded by many as the first play to bring German style expressionism to theAmerican theater. The story follows the emotional struggle of the characters rather than the major events of the plot (in fact most of the turning point events of the play occur between the scenes) Until he wrote The Adding Machine Rice was a master of the melodrama, but The Adding Machine’s distinctively modern feel and disturbing message set it apart from his other plays.

The play is composed of “scenes in progress.” They do not resolve, but, continue to spin after they’ve ended. The play is like opening a series of doors to discover some event, as you watch the event it gains momentum but then before any major change occurs (or completes occurring) the door closes again and you move on. The play has a typical dramatic structure that is modified so that many of the major plot points occur between the acts.

The major dramatic question is “Will Zero escape his wife, his job, and the miserable world he lives in or will he continue to live in some kind of hell?” The answer is “He will continue to live in some kind of hell.”

The play is a tragedy which allows the scenes that occur between the “real” action to remain riveting in fact more interesting than the events they surround. In the court scene where Zero speaks at length to a silent unresponsive jury we enjoy a kind of suspense (perhaps a remnant of Rice’s old melodramatic style) “At any moment they might say something they might understand him!” we hope. But, next thing we know he’s in hell. Rice seemed to have no interest in showing any other witness or cross examinations or even the point where they decided his sentence. We here the verdict “Guilty” but Zero goes on with his defense as if he still might have a chance. This piece of action is left unresolved until the next scene.

The Adding machine is clearly character driven. It is told with a a strong point of view allowing us to see events through the eyes of Zero.

The language of the play sounds highly naturalistic while still conveying the story in an expressionistic way. Two of the seven scene consists of single monologues that run at the pace of the stream of consciousness of the characters. In the second scene Daisy and Zero speak their thoughts aloud between the lines in the normal conversation. Rice has turned subtext into text making palpable what is normally only implied.

Other plays by Elmer Rice:

1923 The Adding Machine, 1923 Street scene an opera with lyrics by Langston Hughes, 1929 Cock Robin, with Philip Barry, 1929 The subway, 1931 The left bank, 1931 Counsellor-at-law, 1933 We, the people, 1934 ...]Judgment day] , 1939 American landscape, 1940 Two on an island, 1941 ... Flight to the west, 1944 ... A new life, 1946 Dream girl, 1952 The grand tour

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