What You Should Know About Machinal is that Rebecca Hall Can Act

Machinal is one of those shows in which the context the show was created in is more interesting then the show itself. First off, there is the show's writer: Sophie Treadwell. An established journalist and playwright, Treadwell defied convention in the 1920's because, as the era would indicate, a woman working in either field was as rare as a shooting star sighting. And Treadwell's inspiration for Machinal comes from the story of Ruth Snyder, which you are welcome to Google if you fancy some spoilers.

Set in the 1920's, the show is about Helen a.k.a ‘Young Woman’ as she devolves into insanity while following society’s inhibiting plans for her - the most prominent being an undesirable marriage. To say that things don't end well for her would be a vast understatement. Like, VAST understatement.

It’s not fair to say that Machinal is boring, nor is the revival now open at the American Airlines Theater is anything less then satisfactory. Director Lyndsey Turner may love her revolving stage and its symbolism a little too much (a woman spiraling out of control, you guys!), but there is flair to the approach. I was more impressed with the way she manifests tension and claustrophobia - she captures a grittier side of the 1920’s that, in theater terms, is more period-accurate and less pandering (and convenient) then say, Chicago

Having said all of that, Machinal trades in "story" for "star vehicle" and it shows. Of the few major revivals that have been staged since the original Broadway production in 1928, Fiona Shaw won an Olivier award while portraying the Young Woman about twenty years ago, which speaks to the clout of the role (not to mention, Shaw’s credibility as an actress).

Whatever lull there is in the narrative, Rebecca Hall is there to steer the show back on track. She is giving a wonderfully polarizing performance that straddles the line between wide-eyed, blank expression and full-blown psychotic. Her stream-of-cray consciousness moments, imbued with her quiet intensity that you might have caught wind of in The Town, were distressing and caused quite the deafening silence in the audience of the night I attended. And when her character reaches a breaking point(s), Hall reaches another frontier, resulting in more concern for her character’s journey then you would in any other case. She was the show for me - even though there are other parts to this machine that were not too shabby as well.

Ticket provided by the production

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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