Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Welcome to the Machine
Sophie Treadwell's Machinal is a scary artifact of a lost era. Her play (based on a true story!) is an expressionistic bad trip from the 1920s about a secretary who married her boss and then killed him for true love. I figure the playwright asked herself "Why would somebody do that?" and then answered the question with this play. Her central character is defined as a character without choices. She's trapped in a machine. That machine is society. Patriarchal, oppressive, hierarchial and deadly.
OK. Nightmarish. But that was then and this is now. A director staging this play in 2010 has the choice of serving up a historical artifact or twisting the material around in a new, subversive context. Director Dmitry Troyanovsky took the latter approach. And a gusty approach it is.
Troyanovsky set the play in the present. By doing that, he shifts the spotlight. Instead of looking at the mad world, we're looking at a mad character. The protagonist marries someone she hates, finds someone she loves, won't leave the man she hates -- and then kills him in an act that's inevitably self-destructive.
It's a different nightmare -- and more frightening. The character's not trapped, but she thinks she's trapped. She's a victim of her own choices, not a victim of circumstance. But she doesn't think she has any choice. That's terrifying. You feel echoes of Susan Smith and all the other tabloid prodigies of our brave new world.
The source material sometimes fights with the new spin. In a weird way, that only adds to the nightmare. The character, in her head, is living in the 1920s. It's all the more creepy.
This is a white hot production. The young actors bled their lives, souls and hearts into this thing. It's a nightmare, yeah. But it's a dream of a play.
Short version: We have met the machine and it is us.
Through March 21
FSU/Asolo Conservatory production
Cook Theatre, FSU Center for the Arts
5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota