Message from the Artistic Director About MACHINAL
Interestingly, like The Winslow Boy, its predecessor at this theatre, Machinal is also a play inspired by true events, though in this case the events were far more salacious than the potential theft of a postal order. Machinal takes its story from the trial of Ruth Snyder, a seemingly ordinary wife and mother from Queens, New York who, in 1927, was arrested for the murder of her husband, Albert. While Ruth initially played off Albert's death as part of a robbery, police quickly realized that the break-in had been staged and that Snyder and her lover, Henry Judd Gray, were responsible. In fact, Gray later indicated that this murder was the eighth attempt that Snyder had made to end her husband's life. The trial of Snyder and Gray became front page news, with the public fascinated by the question of what could possibly lead a woman to take such extreme actions. That question would never be answered, as both Snyder and Gray were put to death by electric chair in January of 1928. Although no cameras were allowed at the execution, one Daily News reporter managed to sneak one in, leading to one of the most infamous photos of the 20th century: a dead Ruth Snyder still strapped into the chair, there for millions of readers see.
It's easy to see why a story like this one would capture the imagination of a playwright. Treadwell began her career as a journalist and had covered many sensational trials, and she was in attendance at the Snyder hearings. But what she chose to do with this sad and strange tale is far more interesting than a standard reporting of events. Influenced by the increasingly popular theatrical form of expressionism, Treadwell takes us deeper into the story, giving the audience access to the inner workings of the mind of a desperate woman. The play is stylized to let us see not the world as it is but the world as it appears to a woman in conflict. She also strays from the exact events of Snyder's life, making that original question of motivation both broader and more penetrating. It's no longer a question of what led Ruth Snyder to kill Albert Snyder, but of what could make any young woman so desperate to change her life that she would take the life of another in her own hands.
In this way, Treadwell is questioning the whole function of women in the quickly-shifting America of the late 1920s. The play's title, Machinal (or The Life Machine, as it is known to some British audiences), directly references the mechanization that was taking place at the time and that swept many women into new and uncomfortable workplace roles. As industrialization and assembly lines took over, what was happening to people who went from being individuals to being cogs in a vast machine they could barely understand? Treadwell asks us to look at the bleak options in front of the Young Woman we follow throughout the play: Should she remain a cog, settle for a loveless marriage, or seek happiness in whatever way she can? Will society judge her if her own happiness comes at the expense of others'?
This play, an endlessly fascinating trip down the rabbit hole, has been out of the spotlight for far too long. While Machinal was a major success for Treadwell in 1928 (she wrote a first draft within four months of Ruth Snyder's execution), it has not been seen on Broadway since that time. The play has remained popular in academic circles, but it is rarely staged professionally, and I'm honored to be giving it the chance to be seen by a large audience for the first time in 86 years.
I think you'll find this play to be both deeply emotional and hugely provocative. I've never seen anything quite like it. And with a piece that will evoke strong reactions, I am quite eager to hear your thoughts. Please share them with me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Your feedback is always welcome and is something that I greatly value.
I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!