Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Also see Cameron's review of The Elixir of Love
Director Brenna Geffers's innovative production of Machinal succeeds because it allows the audience to experience the strange and hostile world that surrounds our young protagonist. And the office is not the only place Helen finds uncomfortable and oppressive. She is overwhelmed by claustrophobia on the subway and terminally miserable at home with her nagging mother. She is likely suffering a serious anxiety disorder from the start. A marriage proposal from her self-absorbed boss seems like a way out, but a wedding and baby later the new Mrs. Jones is more depressed than ever. Happiness comes briefly in the form of a rugged drifter she meets in a speakeasy, but once the affair is over Helen breaks down and murders her husband. The play is very loosely based on the trial of Ruth Snyder who got the electric chair for killing her spouse.
Machinal premiered way back in 1928, but Geffers' production is terrifically fresh. Helen is motivated by universalalbeit unusually extremedesires rather than dated social imperatives. She understands that marriage to a man who repulses her will be difficult, but hopes the freedom his money can provide will make the suffering worthwhile. Being left alone to sleep until noon is her idea of wedded bliss, but she is not under the illusion that a husband or baby will make her happy. Helen is manipulated and marginalized by the men in her life, but in this production there is no doubt she is using them at least as much as they are using her.
Mary Tuomanen is phenomenal as Helen Jones. Tuomanen's portrayal of a desperately anxious young woman unable to cope with the demands of ordinary life is utterly convincing. Even more impressively, Tuomanen generates an unexpected sense of empathy from the audience. After all, who has not felt overwhelmed by the idea of working at their job for the next twenty or thirty years? Or that all they need to be happy is to be left the hell alone for a while? Tuomanen brings out the most relatable aspects of Helen's psyche without shying away from the character's negative features and ultimately delusional nature.
Ross Beschler and Chris Anthony give strong performances as Helen's husband and lover respectively. Kristen C. Kunkle vocals are bewitching and she gives a stand out performance as part of the solid ensemble. Kyle Yackoski's sound design is stellar and the overlapping voices, vocals, and sound effects contribute to the success of this impressive production
Unfortunately, the play ends with a whimper instead of a bang. The pace slows markedly in the last two scenes and what should be an exciting climax fizzles out and falls flat. Part of the blame likely lies with the script, but it is a real shame because the rest of the production is so fast paced and powerful.
EgoPo Classic Theater's production of Machinal runs through May 8, 2016, at the Latvian Society Theater, 531 North 7th Street. For tickets go to www.egopo.org or by phone at 267-273-1414.