Oscar E Moore

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MACHINAL – Disturbing, riveting and provocative revival at the Roundabout

January 25th, 2014 by Oscar E Moore

Her life – Young Woman (a remarkable Rebecca Hall) is stifling.  She is desperate to be free of all that constricts her – living with and supporting her nagging or is it caring mother (a perfect Suzanne Bertish) – working as an always late and not very efficient stenographer in a stifling office where everyone performs as an automaton – believing that her only way out is to agree to marry her stifling boss (Husband – an excellent Michael Cumpsty) whom she finds boring and obnoxious despite his being attractive.

He is not attractive to her.  Being a romantic at heart she longs to meet someone to fulfill her fantasies.  Someone whom she truly loves.  When she meets Lover (Morgan Spector) a fine specimen of male lust at a Speakeasy she begins a yearlong affair with him.  She finally finds relaxation and peace of mind in his bed.

But she is plagued by her old feelings until she snaps – mentally unstable to begin with – and murders her husband.  She is convicted and executed in a final scene that stuns the audience into silence until it erupts in applause for this striking Roundabout production now at the American Airlines Theatre.

Sophie Treadwell – playwright and journalist was inspired to write this expressionistic piece over eighty years ago based on the true story of Ruth Snyder who became front page news.  What it must have been like to view it then.  And how wonderful to see it now in such a glorious production.

Lyndsey Turner has directed with a whip.  The dialogue, fact paced and automatic at times, is crisp as a crease and sounds contemporary.  The actors all eighteen of them are extraordinary.  Not only the leads but the others who portray the populace that is always watching and listening – stifling our heroine.

Period perfect costumes by Michael Krass, noir lighting by Jane Cox, original music (Matthew Herbert) and sound design (Matt Tierney) add immensely to the incredible rotating set design of Es Devlin – that allows us to seamlessly flow though the nine episodes of this disturbing work that is performed without intermission.

Rebecca Hall could be mistaken for a young Carol Burnett – which I thought might not bode well for such a dramatic role.  But as Ms. Burnett has proved tragedy and comedy share a fine line and Ms. Hall triumphs in MACHINAL.  Her stream of consciousness monologues are breathtaking.  Her dealing with a crowded subway car, her co-workers and a husband who on their wedding night has her sit on his lap like a ventriloquist’s dummy are finely detailed.  As is her bliss with being with her lover.

It’s a bizarre story that is expertly produced and acted with a set design to die for.

Photos:  Joan Marcus

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