Play ‘Machinal’ magnifies fight for identity

Paige Comaduran

The 1927 Broadway play Machinal, touching on the timeless theme of breaking free of an emotionless world, will be performed by 14 of City College’s theater students later this month.

“The whole play is about finding freedom,” Katie Laris, Theatre Production Chair and Machinal director, said.

When translated from French, the title Machinal means “mechanical,” addressing how “underhanded women” were treated without emotion, and how the routine lifestyle options for a woman were limited and confined by a regimental and patriarchal society.

Machinal first debuted on Broadway with Zita Johann as Helen Jones and was an instant hit. Sophie Treadwell‘s play was inspired by the real life murder trial of Ruth Snyder, who was executed after being found guilty of murdering her husband.

Treadwell decided to make the piece a sympathetic portrait of Jones, who was “driven to this act of violence because she…feels trapped and is surrounded by people who don’t have the sensitivity that she does, ” Laris said.

Megan Connors, a sophomore theater major, was picked from 40 hopefuls wishing to fill the spot of “the young woman,” as Jones is referred to in the play.

“On the cast list you’ll see that the characters don’t have particular names because it shows the mechanical part of the world where no individuality matters – just stereotypes,” Connors said.

Jones longs for freedom from her loveless marriage to George, a restricting and impassive husband played by City College student Maximilian Smith.

But she is confined to a reality that sees women as just objects of reproduction, shunned to a monotonous life as a housekeeper, wife, and mother without freedom, individuality, passion or love.

“We are going for that perfect blend of mechanistic and real,” Laris said to a cast of four at their Monday rehearsal last week.

Laris said she wants to capture the essence of the play by making sure the supporting actors act almost “robotically” because they should feel “distanced and detached” from the distressed Jones.

“The characters that surround the young women are very much entrenched in banalities and superficial clichéd ways of being,” Laris said. “They are very disconnected from their emotions.”

Laris said she is emphasizing the firm grip Machinal’s tone holds over its characters. Every line and action is intended to serve the play’s theme – the idea that the characters are living in a detached society.

“I think the play is timeless because it can apply to today or the past,” Connors said. “It’s all really psychological.”

The audience may feel the play’s being under-acted at first. But Laris is confident they’ll catch on to the expressionistic style she feels captures the play’s message.

“The piece…goes well beyond a message for women. It has to do with the idea of living an authentic life,” Laris said.

Previews will be held Oct. 20 and 21 prior to opening night on Oct. 22 in the Interim Theatre. Tickets will cost $15 ($12 for seniors) and can be purchased at the Interim Theater box office. Rehearsals for the play are continuing until the end of October.

Performances will continue until the finale on Nov. 6.