Sophie Treadwell’s dramatic play "Machinal" from 1928 is in its final weekend of performances at the John Waldron Arts Center in an admirably layered production directed by Jeremy Wilson.
Treadwell was a journalist, a stunt reporter who went into the streets posing as a prostitute and a war correspondent who interviewed Pancho Villa. She covered the trial of the first woman electrocuted for murder in New York.
Treadwell’s play "Machinal" is a determined effort to get into this woman’s head, to dramatize her world from the inside out. Director Jeremy Wilson uses his fifteen member cast of leads and ensemble to create a mechanically busy office, a cheap flat, a lively speak-easy, a couple of contrasting bedrooms, a daunting courtroom and a death cell. Throughout, Wilson and his cast show a wonderful ear for the rhythms of Treadwell’s language for the sounds of the environments, and for the mechanical sounds of the world that maddens the young woman. In the opening office scene the sounds of typewriters, adding machines and other office equipment are all rhythmically integrated with the staccato repetitions of office repartee.
Phoebe Spier was moving as the maddened young woman. She did a nice job of leaving the audience asking if she was crazy or just a sensitive in a coldly empty world. Alex Shotts was delightful as her oblivious, irritatingly fast talking salesman husband. Kate Braun played her pathetic mother. Philip Anderson was the love that opened and closed life for the young woman. Carrie Owen played the office switchboard operator with precision and later roles as well. Ross Matsuda was a filing clerk who could work the phrase "hot dog" into any part of his conversation, then the young woman’s very effective prosecutor and later her ineffectual priest. Demetrius Welch was as an office mate as mechanical as his adding machine, the courtroom defender and a singer who helped the production of "Mechaninal" move smoothly from scene to scene. Ama Boakyewa was nicely apathetic as a fellow office worker, commanding as the court’s judge and sympathetic as the death cell’s matron.
Pianist Hakan Toker was very much part of the drama as he wove pop tunes and sensibilities into some of the scenes and even appeared as a strolling Italian accordion player.
In Sophie Treadwell’s "Machinal" at the Waldron, we see, hear and feel the drama from the young woman’s perspective in an accomplished, sometimes dizzying production.
"Mechaninal" has final performances this evening and Saturday at eight and Sunday at two at the John Waldron Arts Center.