THE BLOG
03/17/2008 05:35 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Stage Door: Theater Reviews

It is refreshing to see a musical go postal.

The Adding Machine, an off-Broadway revival of the 1923 Elmer Rice play, is staged in a Thirties social realism style, complemented by moving performances and a rich modern score. With its healthy dollop of agitprop, the musical addresses an all-too modern problem: Technology makes people redundant. In this case, Mr. Zero is replaced with a mechanical adding machine after 25 years of loyal service. Enraged, the banal Zero, with his drab, whiny wife and thwarted dreams, murders his boss. Then he finds himself, after a nifty death row scene, in the Elysian Fields, where he gets a second chance. But can this enslaved son of the proletariat seize the day?

Rice's play at the Minetta Lane Theatre, lyrically directed by David Cromer, is loaded with political rhetoric -- and 21st-century audiences will find it prescient. Zero (Joel Hatch) is a bald, middle-aged man with few dreams and fewer ambitions. He expects the company to reward his years of diligent service. What he gets is a harsh dose of reality. The machine will add numbers faster. It never makes mistakes. And it can be manned by a high-school grad. Capitalism can be cruel; technology crueler. But thanks to this extraordinary cast, including Zero's besotted co-worker (Amy Warren) who actually pines for the big lug, we're treated to a smart production with a serious message.

The ensemble cast is pitch-perfect; Takeshi Kata set is on point. The libretto by Jason Loewith and Joshua Schmidt, who also did the music, soars. Adding Machine is captivating and clever -- and it highlights an overarching thesis: All business is personal.

So is art. And thanks to an economical revival of Stephen Sondheim's ravishing Sunday in the Park With George at Studio 54, audiences can celebrate the artistry of Georges Seurat. His mantra: color, harmony, line, composition. Sondheim reflects his distinct style -- pointillism -- in his music, which brilliantly captures the passion, singularity and obsession of creation. The first act takes place from 1884 to 1886 and moves from an island in the Seine just outside Paris, where the masterpiece "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte" was painted, and Seurat's studio.

On the heels of its London success, this new version of Sunday in the Park isn't quite as grand as the 1984 original, starring Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin, but it's still a must-see. The Sam Buntrock-directed revival, starring Daniel Evans as George and Jenna Russell as Dot, his mistress, is a stirring production. The musical is a meditation on looking and seeing. Seurat (like Sondheim) is accused of being too cerebral; both use art to connect to people. Ultimately, we're drawn to the work, not the man.

Which is why Act 1, widely acknowledged as the stronger segment, is so compelling. From the opening song "Sunday in the Park With George" sung by Dot, we witness the monomania of creation. As the painting comes to life, James Lapine, the show's author, tackles every aspect of the art world -- its genius and its hypocrisy. The music is beautiful, often woeful and wholly remarkable. When Dot sings "We Do Not Belong Together" to an oblivious George, it's heartbreaking.

By Act 2, which moves to 1984, George's great-great grandson (Evans) is plying his trade, laser-generated chromolumes, with the help of his grandmother (Russell). Again, the art world is neatly zinged in "Putting It Together," a deft piece of commentary.

Sunday in the Park celebrates Seurat's originality and supplies a lyrical way to appraise a masterpiece -- Seurat's and Sondheim's. Employing then-radical notions about color and optics, the neo-Impressionist used tiny precise brushstrokes of color, coupled with precise contours and geometric shapes, to create a new form. This production nicely uses animation to give the show a fresh look and inject bits of humor. Part history, part fiction, part commentary, it's among Sondheim's greatest musical triumphs.

Conversely, Straight Up With a Twist, playing much farther downtown at the renovated Players Theatre in Greenwich Village, is a one-man comedy delight. Paul Stroli is a straight man with metrosexual sensibilities. In short, he knows as much about food, wine, art and fashion as many gay men. He's heterosexual, though his Italian father and German mother, assume otherwise. What's a sensitive boy to do? Go artistic. Stroli dons seven different characters and spins adolescent angst into comic gold. His mother is unquestionably the best.

Chain-smoking her Merits and sipping liberal doses of gin, she is a laugh riot -- the one-liners come fast and furious. Stroli's remembrance of things past is a reminder that, thankfully, there is a refuge for the misunderstood: the stage.