Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: Machinal

The Setting of the Times Prompts Murder; The Setting for the Play Prompts Applause
By Lauren Yarger
Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of Sophie Treadwell's Machinal is another that begs the  question "why this one?" in the midst of so many other great plays out there just waiting for a production, but Designer Es Devlin's awesome sets prove reason enough to see this dark piece.

The action starts with the sounds of a subway car, the riders of which amazingly appear. Trapped among them, a Young Woman (Rebecca Hall) searches for escape on her way to her job as a stenographer at the George H. Jones Company. Her feelings of being trapped without hope escape intensify as she contemplates marriage to her uber-boring boss (Michael Cumpsty) whose "fat hands" repulse her.

But it's 1922 in New York City. What other options are available to a woman? Her mother (Susanne Bertish) offers an example of a woman who still yearns for a man who wasn't exactly a prize and who left his family years ago. It's all about marriage.

The Young Woman (whose name we eventually discover is Helen) goes through with the wedding, but hates the marriage and the subsequent motherhood it brings.

"Somebody!" she wails from within the deepest yearning of her soul.

Looking for escape, Helen joins a good-time-loving friend (an entertaining Ashley Bell) for drinks at a bar (the terrific set revolves to become the various places in Helen's story) and meets a Lover (Morgan Spector). The relationship, though offering a glimpse into what happiness might look like, is not sustainable and fuels her desire to be free of her obnoxious husband.

I will spare you more plot details except to say that the story is loosely  inspired by the real life murder trial and execution of Ruth Snyder and it's a bummer. Hall, who is known for her work on the London stage and films like "Iron Man 3," is making her Broadway debut. While she gives a solid performance and amazes with the memorization skills needed to utter long monologues of broken thoughts and single words that mean so much more, the character isn't likable and director Lyndsey Turner doesn't try to make her sympathetic.

Crumpsty's portrayal of the officious husband whose major goal in life is to  buy a Swiss watch in Switzerland and who, at 10:46 pm, refuses to let his wife go to bed because it is not bedtime (exactly 11) is skilled and gives us some understanding of why an ordinary woman might be compelled to kill him in violent fashion, however. (That non-sentence dialogue as well as a title that has most people googling it to find out the definition is don't make the play likable either).

The ensemble includes Damian Baldet, Jeff Biehl, Arnie Burton, Ryan Dinning, Scott Drummond, Dion Graham, Edward James Hyland, Jason Loughlin, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Daniel Pearce, Henny Russell, Karen Walsh and Michael Warner.

Well worth the trip just for those amazing sets, though. They sort of become a character in themselves and we find ourselves waiting for the next change just to see what brilliance came to Devlin's mind next.

Machinal plays at American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd St., NYC through March 2.


Christians might also like to know:
-- Sexual situations
--Lord's name taken in vain

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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