MACHINAL (EgoPo): Welcome to the machine

Ross Beschler and Mary Tuomanen in MACHINAL. (Photo by David Garrett Sarrafian)

Ross Beschler and Mary Tuomanen in MACHINAL. (Photo by David Garrett Sarrafian)

A sensational, drenching soundscape reverberant with clicks, staccato speech, mottled music, and other garbled noises overlays the action upon a sparse chromium limned set. EgoPo Classic Theater’s production of Sophie Treadwell’s nearly ninety-year-old play inspired by the murder trial of Ruth Snyder is imbued with a dank, metallic, appropriately oppressive feel.

A brightly hued blue dress offsets Young Woman (Mary Tuomanen), also known as Helen, from the other characters in various shades of gray. Helen is suffocated by her office job and stifled by her living environment. Desperately wanting to be free, yet seeking security, Young Woman is wooed by her boss. Encouraged by her needy mother, she enters into a cold marriage of convenience.

Her honeymoon bed is made up long-stemmed red roses, but is more like a veil of thorns, piercing her sensibilities. Young Woman has a baby girl, delivered by hospital staff wearing gas masks, but refuses to nurse her child.  She feels trapped, stifled, wants to have a “say” over her own body, but is pushed and pulled in her role as a woman in a world where rules are man-made. A visit to a speakeasy results in a brief love affair which awakens in Young Woman the sensation of being truly alive, but when her lover leaves town, she cannot bear to go back to her repressive, claustrophobic marital subsistence. Utterly entrapped, the only way out, in her muddled psyche, is through murder.

Under Brenna Geffers’s daring direction, a thoroughly dedicated ensemble move about the pewter enameled traverse stage in courageously stylized compositions, forming exquisite expressionist tableaux throughout the play’s nine sections, some as multiple characters, smartly costumed (Thom Weaver) in stark shades of gray. Mary Tuomanen’s tender, evocative performance as Young Woman gives a glaring glimpse into a mind, soul and body resisting relegation as an automaton in a world where women are purposed into roles which submerge their aspirations. Ross Beschler portrays the stoic Husband handsomely, endeavoring to “do right” without a clue, and Chris Anthony embodies the paradigm of a lover while Lee Minora elicits laughter and brightens the mood in a couple of her roles. The entire cast works wonderfully together in achieving amazing syncopation.  

Mary Tuomanen, xx, and Ross Beschler in MACHINAL. Photo by Dave Sarrafian)

Mary Tuomanen, Chris Anthony, and Ross Beschler in MACHINAL. Photo by Dave Sarrafian)

Saturating nether-world noise, distinctive lighting, (Thom Weaver) and ethereal vocalities, including Kirsten Kunkle’s sublime singing, soundtrack a woman’s fight for air. The intriguing insights of her episodic timeline are splashed out to the audience, each scene fraught with emotion versus machine, like fluid verse, or rose petals raining down in various hues.  

EgoPo’s superb staging of MACHINAL is a surrealistic, cerebral immersion into the mechanisms of a mind going mad in an increasingly impersonal, oppressive, mechanized world. Catch a wave, dive in if you dare!  If it helps, there is a wonderfully stocked bar on the first floor of the Latvian Society venue, where you can purchase then take your courage into the theater…  

[EgoPo Classic Theater at the Latvian Society, 531 N. 7th Street] April 20-May 8, 2016; EgoPo.org

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About the author

Lisa Panzer

Lisa Panzer has worked for many years in theater not only as an actor, but as a director, dramaturg, technical director, lighting designer, stage crew, and roustabout. A few of her favorite past theatrical roles include: Liz Imbrie in Philadelphia Story, Maria in Lend Me a Tenor, Mrs. Tarpey in Spreading the News, Mollie Ralston in Mousetrap, Trinculo in The Tempest, Bernice Roth in Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 and Felicia Dantine in I Hate Hamlet. In addition to theatrical endeavors, Mz. Panzer has also worked as a background performer in television’s Cold Case, Invincible, The Happening, several television commercials, and has played various roles in independent films including Project 21 productions and other commercial acting venues. (See http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3355274/ for additonal information).