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NY1 Theater Review: 'Machinal'

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The Roundabout Theatre Company is presenting a revival of "Machinal," a play based on the true story of a woman from Queens who was executed for the murder of her husband in January of 1928, for the first time since it debuted on Broadway in 1928. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following review.

"Machinal" was first seen in 1928. Playwright Sophie Treadwell based her feminist drama on the true story of a woman who was executed for murdering her husband. It's a remarkable work, both for its compassionate view of a woman victimized by society and the expressionistic treatment, aided by a phenomenal production that renders the protagonist's life unrelentingly bleak.

Treadwell was interested in the dehumanizing nature of modern life. Her characters are listed generically - Young Woman, Husband, Lover, etc. The woman, called Helen, works in an office, depicted as coldly mechanized.

The fine company of actors repeat their lines rhythmically as if reciting verbal morse code.
Helen's straight-arrow boss is eager to marry her, but she finds him repulsive. It takes some urging from her drudge of a mother, but she reluctantly agrees to wed. The birth of a child only exacerbates her misery.

As we hear her inner-most thoughts droned out in stream of consciousness monologues, it's clear she's desperate to break free. So when she meets a young man who offers escape from her harsh reality, the die is cast.

Director Lyndsey Turner's uncompromising vision presents a harrowing portrait of a woman smothered by the constricts of gender and convention. Designed brilliantly with stark lighting and a massive rotating structure featuring complete set pieces, the picture is complete.

The large cast is in top form, with Suzanne Bertish as the mother, Michael Cumpsty, the husband, and Morgan Spector, the lover, standing out. But Rebecca Hall has the toughest job as the nondescript murderess. Resisting the urge to soften her, Hall manages an honest, wrenching portrayal of a woman you'd be very hard pressed to call a friend.

"Machinal" is not for the faint of heart. But if you're up for an intense theatrical experience, this one's a first-class punch to the gut.

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