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1928 Expressionistic play 'Machinal' comes to life at the Wells-Metz



machinal

The IU Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance will perform the play "Machinal" beginning Friday, Feb. 23, at the Wells-Metz Theatre. The production is written by playwright and journalist Sophie Treadwell. Courtesy Photo Buy Photos

The IU Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance will perform the play "Machinal" beginning Friday, Feb. 23, at the Wells-Metz Theatre. The production is written by playwright and journalist Sophie Treadwell. 

The 1928 play is loosely based on the 1927 trial of Ruth Snyder, who was sentenced for the murder of her husband. The play follows a woman’s life of systematic oppression in a patriarchal world, director James Nelson said.

When he directs a play, Nelson said he uses a specific tactic to focus his efforts. 

“I start by asking myself the question of ‘what is this play about in a single word?’ So for me this is a play about imprisonment,” he said. 

The play is considered a significant work of American Expressionism. 

The characters of the play are nameless, the main character simply called "Young Woman." Instead of scenes, the play is broken up into episodes, and distorted audio and visual components accompany the production. 

Each episode of the play addresses a different way the main character is trapped by the male-controlled world. Limitations at work and in her personal life create the entrapment she faces.

Nelson and the design team worked to figure out what is imprisoning the main character and how to portray that in the production. 

“We’ve just kind of individualized the scenes and tried to pursue that question of ‘how are each of these prisons different?’ and what does that say as a whole about a play about imprisonment,” he said. 

Abby Lee, the lead in the play and who is also pursuing a master of fine arts degree in acting, said the show is cool and provocative. Audiences will be on the edge of their seats, she said. 

“Expressionism is not done very often and not done very often this well, so it’s a really good opportunity to just get totally eviscerated,” she said. 

The play approaches the patriarchal world from a woman’s perspective, which Nelson said has always been relevant. 

Nelson said he can see efforts to fight against the trend with the #MeToo movement, which puts a megaphone to how systematic sexual aggression is. 

For people that relate to Young Woman, Nelson said the play is unsettling but recognizable within the context of today’s society. For those who don't, Nelson said it will not affect them.

“If you can see a fictional world in which women are marginalized and think that has no place in your own world then I think that says something about you,” he said. 

Lee said the play will make people either laugh, cry or puke. 

For Nelson, the play will be enjoyable because of how much there is to look at and respond to. 

“I hope that it is something that people are compelled by and I hope that it does cause some strong feelings in people,” he said. 

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