UIS’ production of ‘Machinal’ is refreshingly modern


UIS theatre’s production of Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 masterpiece, Machinal, expertly portrays the horrible, suffocating world of the young, modern woman.

The play is based on the real-life story of executed murderess Ruth Snyder. The titular character, only referred to as Young Woman (Ellyn Thorson), lives in a prison both literally and figuratively, as she prepares for her upcoming execution and struggles to live within the confines of femininity.

The audience feels like they themselves are going through the Young Woman’s own personal hell. The performance is divided into 9 episodes, each marked by characters’ robotic actions, repetitive dialogue, and an almost industrialized landscape.

Thorson does a phenomenal job encompassing the internal struggles of Young Woman. Her monologues and cries of help sent shivers down my spine and resonated the struggles of woman. Jones (Grant Naughton)’s every interaction with Young Woman makes your skin crawl. The side characters felt real in every single way and gave a breath of life into a play that is, at times, intentionally robotic.

The themes of the play were portrayed just as phenomenally. The performance centered around modern themes like the intersection between marriage and freedom and a woman’s role in the domestic sphere. The actors’ portrayals felt entirely contemporary and as if the work wasn’t written just before the Great Depression.

Yet the play isn’t without its downs. Although Thorson’s job playing Young Woman was outstanding, often her facial expressions didn’t quite match what was being spoken. Though her monologues are meant to show the tug and pull of her inner self, often it felt forced and I found her nearly smiling.

Other actors also felt forced, too. Every character that Naughton played was fantastic, but his character in episode five felt too much like Jones, and I felt lost for a moment or two watching the scene go by.

Overall the actors do a fantastic job telling the story that is meant to be told in the play. The jokes are funny, despite the show’s tragic nature. The whimsical feeling of being in love sparks warmth and pity. The Young Woman’s cries of pain spark both fear and sadness in our hearts. We begin to feel the same hot and cold that Young Woman always feels.

If you have the chance to catch a showing of this play, I would highly recommend setting aside time to watch it.

Rating: 8/10