Down by the water's edge this morning to bask in the sun and listen to the waves lapping softly onto the beach. Naturally, someone had to come up behind us talking on a cell phone. Would loud crashing rather than softly lapping waves help? No, cell phoners like the one behind us start yelling into their phones if that's the case. They don't like being upstaged, especially by nature, and will be heard no matter the obstacle.
I said to Nancy, ``It's time someone revive Elmer Rice's `The Adding Machine.' We need Mr. Zero again.''
``Who,'' Nancy said, ``is Elmer Rice? Or Mr. Zero? I know what an adding machine is but I don't know what you are talking about.''
Not the first time, but irony of ironies, on reaching home and opening the Monterey County Herald we see in it a story by Lily Dayton that, indeed, ``The Adding Machine'' is being opened this week at the Western State in Salinas, California. An amazing coincidence.
``The Adding Machine,'' written by young New York playwright Elmer Rice, took the theater world and, to a degree, America by storm in 1923. It is a play about man being impaled by the machine age, an Expressionistic work of great originality. Mr. Zero is the hero, an accountant who is losing his job because of the advent of the adding machine and ongoing corporate greed.
You can see the play is still relevant, just substitute other machines for the adding machine and as for greed, well, it stays the same. Never shy about making strong statements, Rice's Mr. Zero turns violent and things happen on earth and in heaven. Mr. Zero does not have the power, however, to blow up the adding machines.
Unfortunately, Rice has been somewhat forgotten. This play, though, is being done again around this country, sadly because of the the times we live in. It undoubtedly influencd over the decades numerous plays, screenplays and novels about man losing touch with himself and nature, such as people who will talk loudly on their cell phones while others wish to listen to the ocean.
Rice's ``Street Scene,'' which won the Pulitzer in 1929, is credited by many as the first ``urban play,'' and the harbinger of so many ``kitchen sink'' dramas from Clifford Odets through England's John Osborne and perhaps even Harold Pinter and David Mamet.
So why is Rice in an overall sense forgotten? It is my theory that creative pioneers are often forgotten because what they discover is often done better by those that follow them, so Odets' ``Waiting for Lefty!'' and Osborne's ``Look Back in Anger'' are perhaps better plays than ``Street Scene.'' Or, at the least, more up-to-date and timely, so they supercede the earlier work.
Still, Rice deserves better. He was tough and strong and stood his ground. A Jew, he wrote of Nazism, traveling to Europe and hearing Hitler speak, which took courage; he realized early the coming conflict between the United States and Russia, writing ``Between Two Worlds,'' and in 1936 resigned his position as director of the Federal Theatre Project when the government censored his critque of Mussolini and Italy's invasion of Ethiopa. He simply stood up for what he believed.
The kind of person we need more of. He might write that machines such as cell phones certainly have their value and place, but not behind people who want to listen to the sea.
Causes Steve Hauk Supports
City of Pacific Grove Public Library, Pacific Grove, California; Animal Friends Rescue Project, Pacific Grove; Animal Welfare Information and Assistance,...