By Robert Simonson
17 Jan 2014
Photo by Joan Marcus
The other Broadway opening this week also dealt with female empowerment, but in a very different era and in a decidedly different way.
The Roundabout Theatre Company opened its new production of Sophie Treadwell's seldom-seen expressionistic classic Machinal, starring Rebecca Hall portraying real-life murderer Ruth Snyder, a rather ordinary woman driven to murder by her stultifying, circumscribed existence, at the American Airlines Theatre. The show is the play's first Broadway revival since its 1928 debut.
"Describing Machinal as ahead of its time is just the tip of the revelations in Sophie Treadwell's 1928 expressionist stunner," wrote Newsday, in one of the more wholly positive notices. "This little-known adventure in psychological, sociological and stylistic boundary-pushing — not on Broadway in 86 years — has been given a dazzling, daring revival that feels especially startling in the doggedly conventional environs of the Roundabout Theatre Company's American Airlines Theatre... It cannot be easy to play a character so tightly trapped behind society's facade. But Hall — with a beanpole body like an exclamation point and a face of a thousand worried looks — brings us deep inside the long, virtuosic bursts of halting half-sentences and tangled mazes of internal monologues."
"Staged this time by British director Lyndsey Turner with uncompromising rigor, the play's nine 'episodes' unfold in a revolving rectangular box created by design magician Es Devlin," commented Hollywood Reporter. "This functions like a gallery of grim dioramas… The combined effect is dour but often darkly beautiful... This is a tough play with an intensity that doesn't let up, and the actors all respond to it with full-force commitment... But it's Hall who rivets attention."
Yet, the Times noted that "Hall must struggle to hold her own against an overbearing co-star. That would be Es Devlin's revolving, scene-stealing set, which portrays a juggernaut of doom — i.e., modern urban existence — that flattens all in its path. You might say such a battle, pitting a lone specimen of humanity against a marvel of technology and artifice, only underscores the haunting determinism of Machinal, and I wouldn't argue. And even if the Young Woman is clearly headed for extinction from the first scene, Ms. Hall's emotionally transparent performance is never overwhelmed by what surrounds it."Continued...