Sophie Treadwell’s play “Machinal” debuted in 1928 on Broadway, but the themes seemed prescient at the University of Montana School of Drama and Dance.
Director Bernadette Sweeney said the story of a young woman, isolated and feeling misunderstood in “an increasingly mechanized society”, felt like a contemporary pick for her season.
“Obviously we’ve all been through an extraordinary period over the past two years where we’ve all had to literally isolate ourselves and stay as far away from each other as possible, and so this seems like a timely scenario to bring to the public for these reasons,” said Sweeney, an acting teacher.
Treadwell, a journalist and playwright, was inspired by a story she covered: Ruth Snyder, who was convicted of murdering her husband and executed.
“She was really struck by the way the media sensationalized the trial and made no effort to comment on the motivations or conditions of the attacker,” Sweeney said. Her play, written in the expressionist style of the time, relies on the isolation of one protagonist, a woman living in a time of modernization (and alienation), Sweeney said.
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The show only lasts for one week, from Wednesday to Saturday February 23 to 26 at 7:30 p.m. There is a matinee on Sunday February 27 at 2 p.m. The school uses a “choose what you pay” program and spectators can choose their admission price. Go to griztix.com buy in advance.
“Machinal” is staged at the Montana Theater, the school’s main stage at the PAR/TV Center. Although the school has had a steady schedule of offerings during COVID, this is its first full play for an in-person audience at this venue since the cancellation of “Spring Awakening” in the spring of 2020.
Forgotten and resurrected
While the play was a hit when it debuted – Clark Gable played the lover – it was soon forgotten and “faded from production, even from theater history” until a revival in the 1960s. 1990, Sweeney said.
“It’s a great example of how often the work of female theater practitioners can get lost or has been lost,” she said, which happens in all cultures.
Regarding his expressionistic style, Sweeney told the theater that it means “the subject of human experience is often at odds with the world”, and that they will “highlight or stage the emotions of a person and how they might feel at odds with the world around them”. whether it is society as a whole or their families.
When it comes to archetypes, the protagonist is known as “Young Woman”, for example. There are 28 roles performed by 14 student actors who all play multiple roles.
Visually, this means a strong emphasis on light and dark tones, as well as sound. Their designer, David Mills-Low, arranged the sounds of real typewriters and calculators during one chapter, “To Business.” Each of the nine chapters has an evocative title and its own atmosphere, she says.
The show’s set is a final project for set designer Aaron Chris en route to an MFA. The set reflects the themes “in an incredibly evocative way, creating this monolithic, mechanical world,” Sweeney said. Hannah Gibbs, also an MFA student working on a final project, designed the lighting which has a matching palette.
Sweeney said it was “vital to our art form to have a live audience”, and they are grateful to be a part of this play’s return to American audiences.