Murder and Mayhem
By Samantha Brandbergh
Rider University’s musical theater program will take crowds on an emotional ride filled with passion, drama and murder in the upcoming production of Machinal.
Written by Sophie Treadwell and inspired by one of the most famous murder cases of the 20th century, Machinal will bring the disturbing and tormented mind of Ruth Snyder, convicted murderer, to the Yvonne theater stage from Feb. 25 to March 1.
Nominated for four Tony Awards, this play, running approximately 100 minutes, is told in an expressionistic style and will delve into the world of restraint and demands many women in the 20th century faced.
Machinal follows a young, socially alienated woman who works as a stenographer and lives with her mother, with whom she has an unsatisfying and damaged relationship. She unwillingly follows society’s harsh rules and eventually gives in to marrying her boss, George H. Jones. Shortly after, her life begins to spin out of control. This chaos in her life drives her to murder her husband and she is then put on trial.
Upon seeing a production, professor of theater and director Miriam Mills felt the need to give this play the recognition it deserved.
“I saw this play recently on Broadway with the Roundabout Theatre Company and felt that the choices they made missed the mark, and that the play deserved a wiser artistic focus than the one given in New York,” she said. “I wanted to see if I could pull it off.”
The lead character, appropriately credited as “Young Woman,” is being portrayed in a much different light in the Rider University production, Mills said.
“The New York ‘Young Woman’ played by Zita Johann is completely different than the one being played by [freshman] Mary Foster,” she said. “Mary is much younger and the woman in the New York production is much more experienced and considerably older. Nevertheless, Mary has amazing energy, passion and heart. She is doing a wonderful job for such a difficult role.”
Mills notes that this production will feature many more theatrical elements, including the addition of music and choreography not used in past versions.
“We have created a Greek chorus of sorts that dances and observes the action,” she said. “We are using 30 students from both the theater and musical theater tracks in this show. Adding a Greek chorus when none is written into the play requires a great deal of creative choices.”
The addition of this Greek chorus is something that student choreographer Sean Cackoski agrees will set this show apart.
“Including a movement chorus makes it unique,” he said. “It echoes the chorus used in Greek theater. I think that it would be more effective for you to see the show than for me to try and water down the complex and exciting work of the many artists working on this production. It deserves to be seen, not imagined from afar.”
Cackoski describes choreographing this play as a “fun challenge.”
“When adding an element such as a movement ensemble, one has to be diligent in making sure that the movement complements the action of the play,” he said. “We have tried a lot of things, some which worked beautifully, and some which did not. Of course we changed what did not. It has been particularly fun to see what the dancers contribute to the movement.”
With the many intricacies of Machinal, the cast and crew were all faced with challenges in the coming together of the production.
“This play is different as it might be the hardest play I have ever worked on,” Mills said. “We are doing the play in an expressionistic style, which is very challenging for the students. Since the play is being told from the ‘Young Woman’s’ perspective, everything is slightly distorted,” she explained.
Even with these obstacles, the play promises to be something the audiences won’t soon forget.
“The audience can expect to be taken on a journey with the ‘Young Woman’ that is heartfelt and tragic,” Cackoski said. “And of course [the play] is full of beautiful and exciting images.”
Printed in the 2/25/15 edition.