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Roundabout Theatre Company Presents Rebecca Hall in "Machinal" at the American Airlines Theatre
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Roundabout Theatre Company Presents Rebecca Hall in "Machinal" at the American Airlines Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights
Ariston Flowers
110 West 17th Street,
NY, NY 10011
Fax: 212.242.5479
Ariston Floral Boutique
425 Lexington Avenue (44th St.)
NY, NY 10017
Fax: 212.867.0607

Roundabout Theatre Company
Todd Haimes, Artistic Director
Harold Wolpert, Managing Director
Julia C. Levy, Executive Director
Sydney Beers, General Manager

Rebecca Hall

By Sophie Treadwell
Directed by Lyndsey Turner

Suzanne Bertish, Morgan Spector, Michael Cumpsty
And an ensemble of actors

At the
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 47th Street

Set Design: Es Devlin
Costume Design: Michael Krass
Lighting Design: Jane Cox
Sound Design: Matt Tierney
Original Music: Matthew Herbert
Hair & Wig Design: Paul Huntley
Choreography: Sam Pinkleton
Dialect Coach: Kate Wilson
Production Stage Manager: Beverly Jenkins
Production Management: Aurora Productions
Casting: Jim Carnahan, CSA, Carrie Gardner, CSA
“Machinal” General Manager: Denise Cooper
Press: Polk & Co.
Assoc. Managing Director: Greg Backstrom
Director of Marketing & Audience Dvpt.: Tom O’Connor
Director of Development: Lynne Guggenheim Gregory
Founding Director: Gene Feist
Adams Assoc. Artistic Director: Scott Ellis

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
February 21, 2014

Machinal is not a play that’s immediately absorbed. In fact, it could take days to analyze and synthesize. Sophie Treadwell was inspired by news of NY suburban, Ruth Snyder’s 1927 act of coldly murdering her husband and facing the legal and fatal consequences. The Young Woman, as she’s called for most of the play, is Rebecca Hall, a mesmerizing actor. In the early scenes, she’s observed in an onstage subway, forcing herself against dreary, colorless commuters, in an attempt to keep her balance. That subway design, by Es Devlin, is a brilliant creation that magnifies life in New York, even in 1922-28. The Woman’s fellow office-workers are also nameless, like Telephone Girl, Filing Clerk, Adding Clerk, Stenographer. Hall’s character is known as a non-conformist, a tardy one, one who can’t keep up with the speed. She’s saddled with a crotchety, sadistic mother, called Mother (Suzanne Bertish), at home, and watching them eat soup is evocative of Dickens. All the characters to mid-performance speak like the adding machine and typewriter, in mechanistic tempo and tone. Coldness sets in fast. The nine scenes are called Episodes, like “Honeymoon”, “Domestic”, “The Law”.

The Woman needs an escape hatch, and the boss in her office, Husband (Michael Cumpsty) provides a ring and a home. He also provides suffocating boredom. His concept of marital intimacy is akin to rape. He orders her to undress, to sit on his lap, and always to keep the curtains closed, as society dances beyond the windows. Each turn of the set brings another box-like prison. Even the wedding scene was so rapid that it didn’t have its own episode. The Woman has a baby she won’t nurse or hold. The doctor orders her to obey, with nurses dressed in stiff, white costumes. The mood suddenly shifts in a bar, with the Woman and an office friend going out for a drink, a bit incongruous, considering the obvious wrath the Husband would wreak. Seedier than all, an aging Man in the Bar (Michael Warner) openly seduces a Boy in the Bar (Ryan Dinning), as we witness the Boy being overcome with drink. Once again, the mood becomes warm and the dialogue smooth, as the Woman meets her own lover, called Lover, in the bar (Morgan Spector) and they begin an affair. The Lover has little, and his past is cloudy, but clear as day, the Woman finds some elusive peace. Her twitching, angst-filled voice and gestures turn to sensual and smiling. Soon the Husband is dead, a trial ensues, and the prosecution plies the press. Dread and doom return.

Ms. Treadwell’s early 20th Century play is remarkable, and I look forward to seeing more of her works. Lyndsey Turner directs with precision for vocal and gestural nuance, with each character perfectly fitting into the swiftly spinning scenery. Ms. Hall, who hails from London, is having a fantastic Broadway debut. She springs her character forth, off the mechanical setting, with compelling persona. Mr. Spector blazes as the muscular transient, the one all-natural being, who goes against the grain of the city. Ms. Bertish is a devilish mother who propels her daughter into work and marital traps, for her own material neediness. And, Mr. Cumpsty, although not one with “fat hands”, as the Woman complains, a strong, handsome man, reeks of predatory coercion and macho menace. Es Devlin’s scenery is worth the ticket, on its own, hopefully not to be dissembled at the conclusion of the run, and Michael Krass’ costumes show imaginative and retro authenticity. Jane Cox’ lighting and Matt Tierney’s sound enhance this spell-binding production. Kudos to Roundabout Theatre Company.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at