Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Machinal"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2009 by Tony Annicone

"Machinal"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The current show at Roger Williams University Theatre is the drama "Machinal". "Machinal" is a play written by American playwright and journalist Sophie Treadwell. The show originally opened on September 7, 1928 at Plymouth Theatre on Broadway. It was inspired by the real life case of convicted and executed murderess Ruth Snyder. It is based on the this trial and is an expressionistic case study of the demands and difficulties presented to the modern woman of the times. The tragedy is in nine scenes. The story involves Helen whose entire life has been dictated by the people and machines around her. She follows the rituals that society expects of a woman, however resistant she may feel about them, and subsequently marries her boss, whom she finds repulsive. After having a baby with him, followed by an affair with a younger man who fuels her lust for life, she is driven to murder her husband. She is found guilty of the crime and meets her end in one of the deadliest of machines, the electric chair. Director Robin Stone chooses the 10 best performers for this roles and he keeps the audience on the edge of their seats with the dramatic tension and acting prowess of his students especially in the courtroom scene.

Robin's note for the show explains expressionistic drama:"They express the world through the point of the protagonist, an anguished victim of an oppressive society that marginalizes the weak and those who do not fit well. Other characters are stripped of individuality and reduced to abstract personifications embodying a particular viewpoint."He is aided in his task by set designer,Dorissa Boggs. The unit set consists of various playing areas with sliding black and white flats with machinery painted on them. They represent an office, a flat in a tenement, a hotel, a hospital, a speakeasy, a furnished room, a drawing room, a court room, a prison and finally in the dark. The three latter scenes scare the audience with its dramatic impact. To capture the grimness of the show costume designer Priscilla Eighme has the cast in gray jumpsuits for most of the show. Trevor Elliot is the technical director of the show. Helen is based on Ruth Snyder and according to Sophie Treadwell is "a young woman, ready, eager for life, for love but deadened, squeezed, crushed by the machinelike quality of the life surrounding her." Treadwell uses this scenario as a springboard for her own speculations about what circumstances might drive a seemingly harmless stenographer to commit murder. The show explores the stages of this woman's life. The machine is society; the victim, a woman, who has no recourse other than submit to its patriarchal will.

Caitlin Kraft whose performance is part of her Senior Acting project, delivers a tour-de-force performance as Helen. She captures the essence of a frightened bird amidst all this unhappiness. The dehumanized work place, the home bereft of love and understanding, the marriage that isolates and repels, the birth that leads to post-partum depression unheeded by the medical establishment and after one brief episode of joy, a terrible encounter with the law and the ultimate machine of destruction the electric chair. The other performers do topnotch work, too and play multiple roles in this show. (I will hit on a few of them.) Christie Console is wonderful as the nagging mother who wants Helen to eat the baked potato she has made, wash the dishes, get married to your boss because who is going to take care of the both of us? What does love have to do with anything the mother exclaims. Noah Starr plays the pompous all knowing George H. Jones and the presiding judge at the trial. Christopher O'Brien is tall dark and handsome as her Mexican lover. His charismatic portrayal of Dick Roe captures the hearts of the audience as well as Helen's.(Clark Gable played this role on Broadway in 1928.) He also plays the prosecuting attorney at the trial beautifully, too. Vicky Page does a wonderful job as the defense attorney spouting her legal dialogue at a quick pace. Peter Arsenault plays the playboy friend of Dick Roe and a priest in the last scene with Helen on death row. "Cielito Lindo" is played during the love scene where Dick Roe explains to Helen that it means a little heaven and to her that was her only time of happiness on earth. Kudos to everyone who does remarkable work on this show. So for an interesting and intriguing drama, be sure to catch "Machinal" at RWU Theatre.

"Machinal" (13 - 21 November)
ROGER WILLIAMS UNIVERSITY THEATRE
@ Performing Arts Center, 1 Old Ferry Road, BRISTOL RI
1 (401) 254-3626

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