Machinal By Sophie Treadwell
Directed by David Charles
Starring Rachel Comeau, Christopher Stewart, and Elie Gottlieb
Annie Russell Theatre at Rollins College
Winter Park FL

It’s a dark and slanty world up on stage, dripping of Dr. Calagari and Freddy Nietzsche. It’s some sort of office our young protagonist (Comeau) works for, and she’s not a model employee. But she caught the eye of her boss (Stewart) and that means marriage. While the girl is more iffy than giddy, her mom (Ana Suarez) screams “yes! Yes! YES!” What value is “true love” in the depression of the early 20th century? The girl is freaked out on her wedding night and I’d say “Intimacy Issues” will affect this union. But one night she meets a bright boy (Gottlieb) in a speakeasy. Then she’s as friendly as a cat and even if he’s been around a bit, he’s the man she wants. But what about faithful hubby? Only a ham fisted murder will do, and next stop is the Power and Light department of old Sing Sing.

This story bases on a high profile “Society” murder of the 1920’s, a murder so badly planned even Damon Runyon called it the “Dumb bell murder.” On stage it’s less about a murder or its circumstances than a visual trip into isolation and alienation. Comeau is occasionally sympathetic, more for her situations than her actions. She at her best as the repressed asexual woman forced into something she doesn’t want, but when she opens up with her lover you wonder “what exactly flipped the switch?” Stewart’s husband is properly self-satisfied, and Gottlieb seems like just the sort of guy to charm undies off a nun. But it’s the set (design by Rebecca Kleinman) that dominates everything: secret compartments, dark brooding towers, antiques machinery meant to destroy or at least intimidate the audience and maybe even the cast. Sordid lives and sordid acts are so much better when we can feel morally superior to the actors, and on this set even Piranesi would be scared straight.

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