Machinal Comes to the Spring Stage
Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal was the department’s spring mainstage play. Jules Odendahl-James, visiting lecturer and resident dramaturg in theater studies, directed the play.
Machinal is the story of “a young woman, any woman,”—a woman destroyed by “a world of money, men, and machines.” Machinal depicts the struggle for personal fulfillment in a world where alienation, commodification and automation reign supreme. A world that is past, present, and future.
Treadwell’s 1928 American expressionist masterwork draws inspiration from the case of Ruth Snyder, who was put to death in Sing Sing’s electric chair for killing her husband with the help of her lover Judd Gray. “The murder case was a sensation at the time and was made even more so by a reporter sneaking a camera into the execution chamber. The resulting photograph of Snyder was published on the front page of the Daily Timestabloid,” says Odendahl-James.
“It’s important to remember this play is very much of the 1920s. It was written less than 10 years after women got the right to vote,” she says. “That said, there’s a lot that feels contemporary about feeling trapped in a machine of life that pushes you along without giving you a chance to figure out who you are and why you do things.
“Certainly technological advancements increase the anxiety about human identity, but Treadwell is very interested in the role that such anxiety and pressure played in women’s lives. That’s specifically why it attracted me—its resonance is still there,” adds Odendahl-James.
“Ours was a small cast—10 actors, nine who play over thirty roles between them. Developing that kind of ensemble is very appealing for a liberal arts theater program—even more so when we have a chance to do a rather obscure play from the early part of the previous century, but one that connects to our own moment in time.”
Movement artist Kali Quinn came in to work with the student cast to explore gestures for the piece. Set design was by Assistant Professor of the Practice of Theater Studies Torry Bend, and costume design was by Raleigh artist Sonya Drum. New York-based designer Cecilia Durbin provided lighting design. Composer David Garner was sound designer.