Machinal – An Old Play That Still Feels New

machinal7Machinal, Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 play, based on an actual murder is worth seeing. This play seems to resurface every few years and it’s no wonder why. Nearly 90 years after originally written the themes are still relevant. Though the dialogue is a bit dated, this is easy to look past. Treadwell shows the lack of humanity in a high-tech society and even touches upon the topics of abortion and homosexuality. Most of the characters are not referred to by name, generally just by initials, which adds to the anonymity that one feels during a time of increased industrialization and mechanization. Many of the monologues come across more like poetry than typical dialogue. They have a staccato rhythm that echo the sound of manufacturing. It is a fast paced world. The main character, “The Young Woman” is lost and out of touch; she is a beat behind and does not fit in.

This is a minimalist sort of play and may not appeal to everyone. It is written in the style of German Expressionism which was in vogue in the 1920’s. “The Young Woman”, as played by Rebecca Hall, is the only character that has any dimension. She is raised by a mother who encourages her to marry for money, not love. Her mother assumes that with money both she and her daughter will have some independence.  Yet, The Young Woman finds herself even more trapped – by society, a husband and a child. That is, until she meets a drifter from Mexico. This one night affair magnifies the imprisonment she feels in her loveless marriage and her life without hope. In her eyes there is only one way out. Her final words before being put to death in the electric chair “somebody, somebod…. “. She dies alone. Needless to say, this is a dark play.

Even if you don’t like dark plays I would still recommend Machinal. The set is fantastic! The designer created a giant revolving open box so that the sets change as it turns. It’s impossible to explain in words how the actors and sets move from scene to scene (or episode to episode, as it’s written in the play). It’s ingenious.

I am a subscriber to Roundabout so my ticket was discounted. Look for discounts to Machinal, but you won’t be disappointed even if you pay full price.


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