The Brown/Trinity Rep M.F.A. Program’s oddly original production of "Machinal," Sophie Treadwell’s sullen 1928 Expressionist drama about a woman driven to murder, inspired by the real life case of Ruth Snyder, features an impressive ensemble of actors and fresh, albeit unusual staging, despite an unnecessarily lengthy script that lacks focus.
Cleverly directed by third year director Aubrey Snowden, "Machinal" tells the story of a seemingly lost, broken Young Woman, played earnestly and affectively by Jamie Rosenstein, who has always been told what to do. At the direction of her helpless, domineering mother (a convincing Amanda Dolan), she marries her boss, George H. Jones, portrayed by a delightfully smarmy Drew Ledbetter, a man whose touch makes her flinch.
After having a child, ’Mrs. Jones’ takes a Lover, (a sanguine Alston Brown) unleashing a newfound strength that is ultimately deadly and results in the murder of her husband, for which she is tried, convicted and sent to the electric chair.
This Young Woman’s story is certainly more complicated and perhaps shouldn’t be reduced to a single sentence or two, but the script purposefully omits details about her misfortune and much is left unsaid, arguably to provoke discussion and speculation. Meanwhile, select sequences drag on needlessly and the story becomes less about her and more like a parable of the ramifications of a repressed life.
Although the material was marginal, there aren’t enough superlative adjectives to do justice to Tilly Grimes’ fascinating set design. The stage is encased in plastic and required players having to literally cut their way through as an introduction, until the select areas and blocks of vision are torn down entirely by an exasperated Young Woman.
I praise Snowden’s daring, unconventional approach, and I applaud the entire cast for delivering solid performances, especially in light of what I considered to be fractional material.
"Machinal" ran through Dec. 16 at Pell Chafee Performance Center, 87 Empire Street in Providence. For info about upcoming Brown/Trinity M.F.A Program productions, visit Trinity Repertory Company’s website.