‘Machinal’ Delves Into Choice, Repression

‘Machinal’ Delves Into Choice, Repression

The Department of Theatre presents “Machinal,” a play about a woman attempting to find individuality admist the restraints placed on women in the 1920s. The first showing is March 26 at 7:30 p.m. -Courtesy photo

This semester’s latest performance from the Department of Theatre is Sophie Treadwell’s “Machinal.” Set during the 1920s, the play is about a young woman named Helen trying to find her individuality with all of the restraints in place on a woman of that era.

Helen is really an everywoman,” said Moriah Whiteman, a third-year MFA student who plays Helen. “She is a compilation of women as a whole for the time period. It’s all about finding her own voice and making her own person,” she said.

She lives in a society that is moving toward mechanization and uniformity, so she (is) essentially fighting for her humanity,” said second-year MFA student and director of “Machinal,” Nathan Adam Sullivan.

The play is heavy on expressionist themes, so audience members may need to understand there are messages and symbols scattered all throughout the play.

The actors move in rather mechanical ways,” Sullivan said. “All of the characters are wearing some piece of red on their shoes, except for Helen. Through subtleties in the play, I wanted to portray how she is an outsider.

From Helen’s first appearance on stage, it is obvious she feels she does not belong with the way she talks to others and carries her body. She feels alienated from the rest of the world.


She does what she does because it’s what she feels she had to do to survive,” said Matt Huffman, a second-year MFA student who plays George Jones, Helen’s husband. “She’s felt pressured to make these decisions from the people around her,” he said.


She does come to make a few selfish decisions in an attempt to find happiness, but they turn out to have negative consequences for those around her. Even though the audiences empathizes with her by the close of the play, some will still walk away feeling she deserved what she got.

This piece encourages a sense of exploration, especially about the self,” Whiteman said. “She isn’t allowed to express herself, so she’s repressing so much until it all comes out and once in an explosion that she takes out on others.”

For anyone who has ever felt trapped or pressured, this play will resonate and hit home. All throughout the play, Helen is mainly doing what she thinks she is supposed to do.

She follows her mother’s wishes, then her husband’s, doing what she thinks she is supposed to do without any real desire behind her actions. Unlike most plays, Helen does her costume changes onstage, with some character always being the one to dress her.

She’s meant to live as the embodiment of  a living doll,” Whiteman said.

While in the end, Helen is finally able to express her freedom, whether it is worth the consequences is for the audience to decide.

“Machinal” opens Thursday at 7:30 p.m., with subsequent runs March 27, 28 and 31, as well as April 1 at the same time. A matinee will be performed on March 29 at 2 p.m. with a pre-show talk an hour before curtain.

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