|Written by||Sophie Treadwell|
|Date premiered||September 7, 1928|
|Place premiered||Plymouth Theatre|
|Setting||An office; a flat; a hotel; a hospital; a speakeasy; a furnished room; a drawing room; a court room; a prison; in the dark|
Machinal is a 1928 play by American playwright and journalist Sophie Treadwell, inspired by the real-life case of convicted and executed murderer Ruth Snyder. Its Broadway premiere, directed by Arthur Hopkins, is considered one of the highpoints of Expressionist theatre on the American stage.
A young woman works as a low-level stenographer and lives with her mother. She follows the rituals that society expects of a woman, however resistant she may feel about them. She subsequently marries her boss, whom she finds repulsive. After having a baby with him, she has an affair with a younger man who fuels her lust for life. Driven to murder her husband, she is convicted of the crime and is executed in the electric chair.
Produced and directed by Arthur Hopkins, Machinal opened on Broadway at the Plymouth Theatre on September 7, 1928, and closed on November 24, 1928, after 91 performances. The scenic design was by Robert Edmond Jones, who used an open stage with a permanent background and made scene changes primarily with lighting. The play is presented in two parts, with ten scenes in the first and four in the second. The production is notable for featuring Clark Gable in his Broadway debut.
- Zita Johann as A Young Woman
- Millicent Green as A Telephone Girl
- Grace Atwell as A Stenographer
- Leopold Badia as A Filing Clerk
- Conway Washburn as An Adding Clerk and A Reporter
- Jean Adair as A Mother
- George Stillwell as A Husband
- Otto Frederick as A Bellboy and A Court Reporter
- Nancy Allan as A Nurse
- Monroe Childs as A Doctor
- Hal K. Dawson as A Young Man and Third Reporter
- Zenaide Ziegfeld as A Girl
- Jess Sidney as A Man
- Clyde Stork as A Boy
- Clark Gable as A Man
- Hugh M. Hite as Another Man and Second Reporter
- John Hanley as A Waiter, A Bailiff and A Jailer
- Tom Waters as A Judge
- John Connery as A Lawyer for Defense
- James Macdonald as A Lawyer for Prosecution
- Mrs. Charles Willard as A Matron
- Charles Kennedy as A Priest
In Britain, the play was first performed under the title The Life Machine in 1931.
"It was unfortunate that word was sent broadcast before the first performance of Machinal that its theme and characters grew out of the notorious Snyder-Gray murder case," wrote Perriton Maxwell, editor of Theatre Magazine. "The play bears no likeness to the sordid facts of that cheap tragedy … Machinal transcends the drab drama of the police court; it has a quality one finds it difficult to define, a beauty that cannot be conveyed in words, an aliveness and reality tinctured with poetic pathos which lift it to the realm of great art, greatly conceived and greatly presented." Calling Machinal "the most enthralling play of the year," Maxwell attributed the play's success to "three remarkable persons: Sophie Treadwell, Arthur Hopkins and Zita Johann."
"From the sordid mess of a brutal murder the author, actors and producer of Machinal … have with great skill managed to retrieve a frail and sombre beauty of character," wrote theatre critic Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times. "Subdued, monotonous, episodic, occasionally eccentric in its style, Machinal is fraught with a beauty unfamiliar to the stage." Atkinson describes the play as "the tragedy of one who lacks strength; she is not adaptable; she submits. … Being the exposition of a character, stark and austere in style, Machinal makes no excuses for the tragedy it unfolds."
Adapted for television by Irving Gaynor Neiman, Machinal was presented January 18, 1954, on NBC-TV's Robert Montgomery Presents. Reviewing the starring performance of Joan Lorring, Jack Gould of The New York Times wrote that "her interpretation of the mentally tortured young woman in Machinal, Sophie Treadwell's expressionistic and bitter poem for the theatre, must rank among the video season's finest accomplishments." The cast also included Malcolm Lee Beggs as the husband.
Machinal was produced Off-Broadway at the Gate Theatre, opening in April 1960, with direction by Gene Frankel, and featuring Delores Sutton, Vincent Gardenia, and Gerald O'Loughlin. In his review in The New York Times, Brooks Atkinson wrote "Gene Frankel has added modernistic details that visualize the inhumanity of the background... Ballou's cold settings, Lee Watson's macabre lighting complete the design of one of Off-Broadway's most vibrant performances."
The play was produced Off-Broadway by the New York Shakespeare Festival at the Public Theatre, running from September 25, 1990 to November 25, 1990. Directed by Michael Greif, the cast featured Jodie Markell (Young Woman), John Seitz (Husband), and Marge Redmond (Mother). The production won three Obie Awards: for Performance (Jodie Markell), Direction, and Design (John Gromada).
Machinal was revived by the Royal National Theatre in London in a production directed by Stephen Daldry. It opened on 15 October 1993 with Fiona Shaw as the Young Woman, Ciarán Hinds as the Man, and John Woodvine as the Husband. The scenic design, which included a large metal grid that moved into different positions for the play's different scenes, was by Ian MacNeil, costumes were by Clare Mitchell, lighting design was by Rick Fisher, with music by Stephen Warbeck.
A revival opened on Broadway in a Roundabout Theatre production at the American Airlines Theatre on January 16, 2014, directed by Lyndsey Turner, featuring Rebecca Hall, Michael Cumpsty, Suzanne Bertish and Morgan Spector.
The Royal National Theatre production won three 1994 Laurence Olivier Awards, for Best Revival of a Play or Comedy, for Fiona Shaw as Best Actress and Stephen Daldry as Best Director of a Play. Ian MacNeil was nominated as Best Set Designer.
The 2014 Broadway production received four 2014 Tony Award nominations: Best Scenic Design of a Play (Es Devlin), Best Costume Design of a Play (Michael Krass), Best Lighting Design of a Play (Jane Cox) and Best Sound Design of a Play (Matt Tierney).
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- Treadwell, Sophie. 1993. Machinal. London: Nick Hern Books and Royal National Theatre, London. ISBN 1-85459-211-4.