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In The Machine

BSU bring The Machinal to life


Can a 78-year-old play reflect on the timeless issues of love, truth, justice and freedom in a contemporary fashion? That's exactly what The Theatre Major's Association at Boise State is working to find out.

Theater history lesson for the day: In 1928, Sophie Treadwell wrote The Machinal, (machinal is the German word for "machine"). The original Broadway production featured a young Clark Gable and ran for 91 performances. The Machinal is loosely based on the 1927 murder trial of Ruth Snyder, the first woman ever executed by way of electrocution. Treadwell used Snyder's story to delve into what circumstances might cause a reserved stenographer to commit a heinous murder.

The Machinal tells the story of Helen. After marrying her boss, she finds herself stuck in a loveless marriage and is soon overcome with the need for freedom. Helen looks for freedom in an extramarital affair with Richard. Her search for love and freedom eventually lead her to murder her husband.

In 1928, the play was described as "a modern age tragedy of isolation turned to murder." The play, Treadwell said, is about "a young woman, ready, eager for life, for love ... but deadened, squeezed, crushed by the machine-like quality of the life surrounding her."

Treadwell's expressionistic drama still holds contemporary relevance due to it's creator, a feminist whose own life revolved around trying to succeed in a male-dominated field. Treadwell was playwright, journalist, women's rights advocate and novelist--vocations which together created a woman who saw beyond the stereotypes of the world she was living in, and into the essence of the human spirit, a theme that holds up throughout the years on any stage.

The Machinal is written in nine scenes, each of which depicts, according to the play's stage directions, "the different phases of life that a woman comes in contact with, and in none of which she finds any place, any peace."

Boise Weekly was allowed a sneak peak of the play and a chance to chat with Katie Dubman, the director of this production and the president of the Boise State Theatre Majors Association. The TMA is a student-run organization focusing on all-student showcases. In the past, most showcases have been a collection of one-act performances. According to Dubman, this is the first time in quite a few years that the TMA has taken on a full-length performance. And this production is quite the undertaking.

Dubman chose the play, she says, "for several reasons. There is a large cast, and we can incorporate a number of students. It is also a very avant-garde play, and that is something that isn't really done too much here."

The TMA is definitely challenging themselves with the production of The Machinal. But for a lot of theater arts students this is a great opportunity. According to Dubman, "this is one of the only opportunities this cast will have where they can apply everything we've every learned in the classroom to a show. Most of the cast is playing at least two characters. It is very challenging, there are bold characters, a challenging plot, challenging set designs. It is also a period piece, which we never get to do." Talk about bringing it all together.

Dubman has chosen to perform the play in the "theater-in-the-round" style. The audience will sit all around the stage on a two-foot platform, an added challenge not only for the actors, but for the designers as well. The play will be kept in its original form, set in 1929. However, the set will reflect the feel of the industrial revolution. A futuristic, modern set attempts to mirror this dawn of the "machine."

The expressionistic manner of this play is shown in the repetition in dialogue and action; all of which echoes the repetitive motion of a machine. The machine of work, the machine of taking care of a family, the machine of everyday conversation, and often, the monotonous machine that life becomes.

Many of the characters in The Machinal are stereotypically designed, as the play takes form from the point of view of the main character, referred to as the "Young Woman." The men are dominating and extreme, while the women's strength is reinforced; another fingerprint left behind by Treadwell. If you know of the play, now is the time to take the opportunity to experience this production. If you don't know the play, you are unlikely to find a better production with all the encompassing heart and soul that Treadewll's The Machinal boldly and poetically communicates.

The Machinal directed by Katie Dubman will be performed on Stage II at the Morrison Center on November 30 at 7:30 p.m; December 1 at 7:30 p.m.; December 2 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for students and can be purchased at the door.