Passion, betrayal lead to murder in ‘Machinal’

November 12, 2009 | Arts
By Angela Riddel

A scandalous love triangle and murder in 1927 are at the heart of journalist and playwright Sophie Treadwell’s “Machinal,” a play that the UT Department of Theatre and Film will present this month.

Helen Jones, played by Betsy Yeary, feels trapped in a loveless marriage to Mr. Jones, played by Marshall Kupresanin.

Helen Jones, played by Betsy Yeary, feels trapped in a loveless marriage to Mr. Jones, played by Marshall Kupresanin.

Performances will be held in the Center for Performing Arts Centre Theatre Friday through Sunday, Nov. 13-15, and Wednesday through Sunday, Nov. 18-22. Curtain time will be at 7:30 p.m. except for Sunday performances, which will take place at 2 p.m.

“This play is a struggle between heart and mind,” said director Irene Alby, UT associate lecturer of theatre. “The longing to be free to express one’s natural humanity versus the desire to fit into a society that expects one to behave in a particular way.”

An expressionist play, “Machinal” goes beyond the dialogue and blocking typical of a realistic tragedy. Powerful emotions and ideas are expressed through metaphor, and Alby uses film, choreographed movement and mask work to enhance the juxtaposition of the natural world versus the industrialized, mechanical world depicted in the play.

“‘Machinal’ warns us of what happens if we do not have the courage to take responsibility for our true selves,” Alby said. “Repressed ideas, thoughts, emotions and fantasies inevitably lead to desensitization, anger, extremism and even hate. The things we refuse to face in ourselves grow and fester inside, like cancer cells multiplying until our passive-aggressive demeanor becomes filled with an inner violence. Helen Jones does not take responsibility for herself or her choices. As a result, when she finally does make decisions, she makes them from an ego that is completely out of control.”

Alby said she believes the play is still significant.

“This theme is still relevant in our post-industrial, service-oriented society. Routine censorship still takes place in the guise of political correctness. Politicians and the media regularly distort facts in exchange for sensationalism and publicity, and a ‘me first’ mentality has replaced any sense of citizenship or customer service from both a personal and corporate point of view,” she said. “Although our clichés have changed, the fight between our spontaneous and instinctual selves and our attempt to be polite, financially secure, scientific, socially acceptable and employable is ongoing and merciless.”

Treadwell was a campaigning journalist who closely followed the sensational trial, conviction and execution of Ruth Snyder. This play is a meditation on the events that could lead a woman to commit such a crime. Its title, “Machinal,” named for the French word for “mechanical,” reveals an underlying and insightful critique of society during her time.

The play’s expressionist style gives the students the opportunity to broaden their acting skills, Alby added.

Students in the cast for “Machinal” are Betsy Yeary, Marshall Allan Kupresanin, Tyria Allen, Kelly McGuire, Jason Santel, Terri Mims, Carey Fisher, Starr Chellsea Cutino, Jillian Albert and Ashley Stephens. All actors except Yeary also are members of the ensemble.

Tickets are $13 for general admission; $11 for faculty, staff, alumni and seniors; and $9 for students. A group discount of 15 percent will apply automatically anytime eight or more tickets are purchased in a single order; each ticket in the order will receive the discount off the regular price of that type of ticket.

Tickets to “Machinal” can be purchased online at, by calling 419.530.2375 or by visiting the Theatre and Film Box Office in the Center for Performing Arts, Monday, Wednesday or Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursday 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 2 to 6 p.m. The box office will be open on show dates 90 minutes before curtain time and will remain open until the play begins.

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