PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 11-17: Beautiful and Machinal Open on Broadway and Titanic Will Sail Back to the Stage

By Robert Simonson
17 Jan 2014

Rebecca Hall
Photo by Joan Marcus
But nearly ever review shifted tone when it came to the subject of Mueller. "Originality is clearly not this show's strong suit," wrote the Times. "With one very important exception. That's Ms. Mueller, a Broadway star in waiting for several years, who here steps confidently into the V.I.P. room of musical headliners." USA Today called the actress, "far and away the best reason to see Beautiful," and Variety said, "all is forgotten, even momentarily forgiven, whenever Jessie Mueller, in the modest person of Carole King, sits down at the piano and pours heart and soul into familiar favorites from the composer's songbook."


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.

Critics were largely impressed with director Lyndsey Turner's production, and Hall's performance, even if there were complaints that Hall's character was difficult to sympathize with and her portrayal was often overshadowed by design elements.

"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."