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Review Roundup: MACHINAL Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!

Review Roundup: MACHINAL Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!

Roundabout Theatre Company's production of Machinal, starring Rebecca Hall, written by Sophie Treadwell and directed by Lyndsey Turner, opens tonight, January 16, 2014 at the American Airlines Theatre on Broadway. Machinal is a limited engagement through March 2.

The cast includes Suzanne Bertish as "Mother", Morgan Spector as "Lover", Michael Cumpsty as "Husband", and Damian Baldet,Ashley Bell, Jeff Biehl, Arnie Burton, Ryan Dinning, Scott Drummond, Dion Graham, Edward James Hyland, Jason Loughlin, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Daniel Pearce, Henny Russell, Karen Walsh, Michael Warner.

Inspired by the infamous 1927 murder trial of Ruth Snyder, Machinal is a gripping drama by American journalist and playwright Sophie Treadwell. It's America's Golden Age, a time of happiness, freedom and prosperity -- or is it?

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: ...Machinal, now revived in its original form in a striking production directed by Lyndsey Turner, chugs to the furious pace of its own rhythms in telling an expressionistic tale of a woman unable to keep up with the full-speed machinations of male-dominated 20th Century life; an ordinary woman driven to an extraordinary deed by a taste of what life can offer when she allows herself the freedom to live as she pleases. Unnamed and stripped of any biographical details, the central character of the drama is played with chillingly pale, tense timidity by Rebecca Hall.

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Yet in "Machinal"...Ms. Hall must struggle to hold her own against an overbearing co-star. That would be Es Devlin's revolving, scene-stealing set, which portrays a juggernaut of doom -- i.e., modern urban existence -- that flattens all in its path. You might say such a battle, pitting a lone specimen of humanity against a marvel of technology and artifice, only underscores the haunting determinism of "Machinal," and I wouldn't argue. And even if the Young Woman is clearly headed for extinction from the first scene, Ms. Hall's emotionally transparent performance is never overwhelmed by what surrounds it.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: The Roundabout Theatre Company's new production has kept the quirky engine but surrounded it with a good-looking chassis and new lighting and audio systems. It's even put in the driving seat the enormously appealing Rebecca Hall under the artful, creative direction of Lyndsey Turner. The result at the American Airlines Theatre is a quirky, sometimes melodramatic and expressionist scream from the past that somehow still can move you...Hall...uses her wide, soulful eyes to terrific effect, telegraphing her inexorable 95-minute march to ultimate tragedy. A tall, long-limbed beauty, Hall projects a coltish unease and otherworldliness in the role, a woman ultimately in the wrong place and time.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Enthralled as we are to our digital gadgetry, you'd think we'd identify with the heroine of "Machinal," Sophie Treadwell's 1928 Expressionistic melodrama (inspired by the infamous Ruth Snyder case) about a woman driven to murder trying to escape her fate in a mechanized society. Helmer Lyndsey Turner's stunning production creates an appropriately bleak environment for this dark drama, and Rebecca Hall (a member of British theatrical royalty better known for her movie work) makes a compelling case for this fragile creature. But it's tough to empathize with someone who lacks a backbone and hasn't a brain in her head.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Staged this time by British director Lyndsey Turner with uncompromising rigor, the play's nine "episodes" unfold in a revolving rectangular box created by design magician Es Devlin. This functions like a gallery of grim dioramas...The striking visuals of Devlin's sets are deepened by Jane Cox's shadowy, cinematic lighting effects, by the subdued color palette of Michael Krass' costumes, and by a murky soundscape designed by Matt Tierney that incorporates composer Matthew Herbert's unsettling score. The combined effect is dour but often darkly beautiful...This is a tough play with an intensity that doesn't let up, and the actors all respond to it with full-force commitment...But it's Hall who rivets attention, holding nothing back in her tortured portrayal of this everywoman's dehumanizing downward spiral as she's failed by her own survival skills and by everyone around her.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: ...this stark new staging, which opened Thursday at the American Airlines Theatre, forces us - and its cast, rigorously directed by Lyndsey Turner - to confront Machinal's own limitations. From the opening subway segment (Turner's addition) on, we get a keen sense of how Helen, played by Rebecca Hall in her Broadway debut, feels smothered by everything and everyone around her...An accomplished stage actress with acclaimed British productions of Shakespeare and Shaw under her belt, the leading lady seems stumped by her character's exaggerated inability to articulate her unhappiness beyond vague yearnings for freedom...By the time Machinal runs its course, theatergoers may feel as if they're the ones who have been beaten into submission, by an anti-heroine who inspires dark fascination but little empathy.

Linda Winer, Newsday: Describing "Machinal" as ahead of its time is just the tip of the revelations in Sophie Treadwell's 1928 expressionist stunner. This little-known adventure in psychological, sociological and stylistic boundary-pushing -- not on Broadway in 86 years -- has been given a dazzling, daring revival that feels especially startling in the doggedly conventional environs of the Roundabout Theatre Company's American Airlines Theatre...It cannot be easy to play a character so tightly trapped behind society's facade. But Hall -- with a beanpole body like an exclamation point and a face of a thousand worried looks -- brings us deep inside the long, virtuosic bursts of halting half-sentences and tangled mazes of internal monologues.

Matt Windman, AM New York: Lyndsey Turner's extraordinary production makes for an absolutely stirring 90 minutes of theater. It powerfully captures the play's heightened theatricality and terrifying aura, utilizing a sleek, box-shaped set that swiftly rotates back and forth to reveal new scenes. The cast is unusually large, allowing the depiction of a stifling, uncaring crowd of strangers inducing claustrophobia. English actress Rebecca Hall, who was stunning in "The Winter's Tale" at BAM back in 2009 and has also appeared in many films, delivers the intense, vulnerable and haunting performance that her demanding role requires.

Melissa Rose Bernardo, Entertainment Weekly: Hall, a British actress who's making her Broadway debut, is spectacular in a near-impossible role. She maintains an astonishing deadness in her eyes throughout the entire evening, save one scene: when she's with her lover (Morgan Spector). Then they light up like firecrackers. That's also the most loosely structured, conventional exchange in Machinal, and the whiplash-inducing return to her character's unreal world is exasperatingly unfulfilling. B-

Jesse Green, Vulture: Whatever moral shiftiness may be squirming beneath its surface, Machinal is at least as worthy of revival as O'Neill's Strange Interlude, another expressionistic drama that opened on Broadway in 1928. Happily, the Roundabout, which has been steadily upgrading its "classic" offerings in terms of both choice and execution, gives it the top-drawer mounting it deserves. The director, Lyndsey Turner, making an exceptional U.S. debut, pulls off the neat trick of realizing a Big Idea without letting it consume the play. She's also elicited compelling performances from the large supporting cast, and mustered all the technical elements into a comprehensible if resolutely mysterious whole.

Robert Kahn, NBC New York: "Machinal" is a tough piece of theater. Society drove Ruth - and so, for our purposes, Helen - to kill her husband. To actually be free, Helen has to die. How you ultimately view "Machinal" depends enormously on your sympathy for Helen and your ability to empathize with her actions. I just didn't like Helen very much, so her death never felt like a terrible loss.

Danny Groner, The Huffington Post: What stands out, though, is how different we deal with mental illness (and the perception of it) today versus less than a century ago. That's surely one of the main topics that Lyndsey Turner hopes we draw from this production: the mistreatment and ignorance displayed by medical professionals and others is disturbing by today's standards. However, it also sets a good framing for Rebeccca Hall's wonderful performance in the lead role as Ruth Snyder...Hall perfectly captures her character's restraint.

Jonathan Mandell, NY Theater: Machinal means machine-like, and director Lyndsey Turner has taken the title to heart, with startling effect. This may be the best-staged play of the season, certainly one of the most aptly designed...The stylized staccato scenes of the play still lend themselves to extraordinary theater in the hands of a good director...Good actors help, and Michael Cumpsty, who is one of the most reliable actors on Broadway, delivers a spot-on performance as the fatuous husband with an unhelpful bromide for every occasion. In the hands of a lesser actor, he might be villainous; Cumpsty makes him a credible human being. Rebecca Hall, a respected British actress making her Broadway debut, plays Helen in a daze, as if shell-shocked by the emptiness and hurry in her life, brought to life only in brief moments of happiness with her lover, and deeper moments of despair.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: This 2014 staging is notable for giving Rebecca Hall her stunning Broadway debut and proving that "Machinal" is an arresting and not some old chestnut that deserves to be cracked open only once every century. It helps, too, that director Lyndsey Turner (another Broadway deb) and her design team (Es Devlin, Michael Krass, Jane Cox, Matt Tierney) have choreographed this story, based on a real-life case of a woman who murdered her husband, as if it were a very modern atonal opera.

T. Michelle Murphy, Metro: Hall's acting is perfectly decent, but she nonetheless may have been miscast. Despite posturing meekness and "purity," there's something about the star's worldliness - not to mention her 5-foot-9 frame - that makes the character's authenticity suspect even before she goes off the rails (literally, fighting her way off a crowded subway car because she can't breathe)...it's clear director Lyndsey Turner put lot of work into all the little details of "Machinal," with the right mix of star power and media momentum, and we wouldn't be surprised if there's an extension or two in the show's future.

Toby Zinman, Philly.com: The difficulty with this antiquated sympathetic feminism, is that Young Woman (Rebecca Hall) is clearly not Everywoman but someone too frail and neurotic to deal with the world...The brilliant director, Lyndsey Turner, whose knockout of a show, Chimerica, was a hit in London earlier this season, creates a great look and a great rhythm for this Machinal, imitating the beat and the sounds of a huge societal machine that grinds up lives. The noirish dialogue is based on unrelenting repetitions and the didactic clichés of the era. The revolving set (Es Devlin) and moody lighting (Jane Cox) are the most exciting aspects of this short, stale play.

Joe, Dziemianowicz, Daily News: Hall, known for films like "The Town" and "Iron Man 3," hides her beauty and plummy English accent as Helen. She's sturdy at some times, singsong in others. Hall's stature and height allow her to strike a physical presence, but when it comes to Helen's freeform monologues, she's emotionally empty. "Machinal" doesn't elicit strong reaction - but it's well served by the world and well-oiled machine created by Turner.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: What makes the show so fascinating is the contrast between its cerebral approach and Hall's compassionate performance. In her Broadway debut, the English actress effortlessly navigates stream-of-consciousness monologues while helping us relate to this opaque character. Helen may feel like a cog in a machine, but Hall makes her all too human.

Tom Teodorczuk, Independent: Machinal is a good play that has been greatly staged in New York by a director and leading lady both new to Broadway. Machinal hasn't been seen on Broadway for 86 years but on this evidence it will take considerably less time for Hall and Turner to be invited back here.

David Cote, TimeOut NY: The Roundabout has been on a good streak, with daring and punchy revivals of Picnic, Cyrano de Bergerac, The Big Knife, Man and Boy andLook Back in Anger (not to mention several good new plays). Machinaltakes the biggest risks, and has the greatest payoff. If you care about American theater-particularly its experimental heritage-go now. I seriously hope that the Roundabout's audiences are thrilled by what they see. But if Todd Haimes gets complaints from people who were rattled or disturbed, that only means the machine is working smoothly.

Robert Feldberg, Bergen Record: Thanks to Hall's haunted characterization, though, the essence of the play, the sense of an individual plowed over by the inexorable surge of society, never fades. We don't feel sympathy for the Young Woman's crime, nor are we meant to, but it's impossible not to be touched by her futile struggle to find her place in the world.

Roma Torre, NY1: The large cast is in top form, with Suzanne Bertish as the mother, Michael Cumpsty, the husband, and Morgan Spector, the lover, standing out. But Rebecca Hall has the toughest job as the nondescript murderess. Resisting the urge to soften her, Hall manages an honest, wrenching portrayal of a woman you'd be very hard pressed to call a friend. "Machinal" is not for the faint of heart. But if you're up for an intense theatrical experience, this one's a first-class punch to the gut.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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