Thursday, January 30, 2014

Machinal (Roundabout Theatre Company)

By Harry Forbes

Sophie Treadwell’s innovative 1928 Expressionist drama inspired (though she denied it at the time) by a real-life murder case was memorably mounted by Britain’s National Theatre in 1993 with Fiona Shaw in the central role of working woman stifled by the conventions of the day, who goes from living with her domineering mother to a loveless marriage with her boss. Ian MacNeil’s set was quite spectacular, as I recall, and under Stephen Daldry’s direction, Shaw gave a riveting performance.

The current revival – its first on Broadway – is smaller in scale, but British actresss Rebecca Hall (in her Broadway debut) is very fine indeed, and her costars are equally adept. These include Suzanne Bertish as the nagging mother, Michael Cumpsty as the excruciatingly earnest husband, and Morgan Spector (in the role originated by a young Clark Gable) as the lover with whom the frustrated young woman experiences her first and only taste of freedom in an overly mechanized world. Spector’s straight-arrow line readings nail the character perfectly.

Es Devlin’s revolving rectangle is quite remarkable. The original production is said to have had a stylized scenic design that suggested the numerous scenes. Here, nearly full sets seem to materialize in rapid and remarkable profusion.

But it is the tremulous Hall who utterly commands our interest, deftly delivering Treadwell’s terse dialogue and stream-of-consciousness poetic outbursts, and creating a convincingly piteous character right up to the poignant final moments.

Lyndsey Turner brilliantly leads her forces in a taut 90 something minutes.

Michael Krass’ period costumes are wonderfully evocative, and Jane Cox’s often murky lighting perfectly evokes the various (mostly bleak) settings.

(American Airlines Theatre on Broadway, 227 West 42nd Street;
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