The first sound that one hears in the current production of Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal at SBCC is the clatter of typewriters. As the scene progresses, the actors add their highly stylized voices to the roar, speaking in clipped tones and relying heavily on set phrases. One character, the Filing Clerk (Matthew Andreas), seems to have only a single response (“Hot dog!”) for any situation. Another, the Adding Clerk (Jesse Garcia) renders everything he hears into figures, as though all of life could be contained in a balance sheet. Into this abstract jungle, beautifully realized by set and costume designer Rachel Myers and lighting director Patricia Frank, enters the Young Woman (Megan Connors), a stenographer who’s late for work and is, as one of her coworkers ruthlessly puts it, “inefficient.”
But not everything in this sterile environment is decided in terms of efficiency, and it’s not long before the young woman begins getting requests to meet with the boss (Maximilian Smith). His offstage proposal to the young woman sets up scene two (of nine), which is a remarkably uncomfortable conversation between the girl and her mother (Melissa Morgan Squire). It seems that the young woman supports her mother, and that her boss has proposed. She doesn’t want to marry him because she feels nothing for him, but the promise of financial security trumps love, as the mother insists that she would be “crazy” not to accept. Squire and Connors are both outstanding in this scene, and it sets the stage very effectively for the tragedy to come. With no understanding or sympathy at home, the young woman enters into a loveless marriage that is then consummated in a brutal fashion by the glib and seemingly inhuman husband.
From there the action accelerates. A traumatic experience giving birth leaves the young woman disconsolate, literally gagging whenever her husband comes to visit her in the hospital. At a speakeasy in scene five, she meets a young man, Dick Roe (Trevor Thompson), who seduces her with the one thing she has never known—tenderness. From there it’s a slippery slope to something much worse than infidelity.
Machinal, with its wonderful, intricate sound design by Barbara Hirsch and an outstanding lead performance from Connors, is a must-see. Congratulations to director Katie Laris for daring to create this fascinating and powerful production.