Broadway is a strange place where many great plays are revived so often – and often recklessly – that they lose their luster while other equally worthy plays from the past are ignored by producers out of either ignorance or a fear of risk-taking.
The Roundabout Theatre Company, Broadway’s leading not-for-profit producer of revivals, is often guilty of bringing back classic plays that were already revived in recent years (i.e. last year’s “Cyrano”). In the case of “Cabaret,” which returns to Studio 54 in the spring, it will be reviving its own revival, a new feat for the company. Just as often, it revives antiquated titles that don’t merit a major new production.
Sophie Treadwell’s rarely-seen, Expressionist 1928 drama “Machinal” is the rare play that, in spite of being artistically significant and culturally relevant, has not been seen on Broadway since its premiere almost a century ago. It has not even received a significant Off-Broadway staging in 24 years. Roundabout should always look for such a play.
Inspired by a real-life murder case, it observes a young woman who desperately seeks freedom from a mechanized, uncaring society in which her choices in life are dictated point by point against her will. After getting a taste of sexual relief during a brief affair, she loses her self-control and is ultimately destroyed.
Lyndsey Turner’s extraordinary production makes for an absolutely stirring 90 minutes of theater. It powerfully captures the play’s heightened theatricality and terrifying aura, utilizing a sleek, box-shaped set that swiftly rotates back and forth to reveal new scenes. The cast is unusually large, allowing the depiction of a stifling, uncaring crowd of strangers inducing claustrophobia.
English actress Rebecca Hall, who was stunning in “The Winter’s Tale” at BAM back in 2009 and has also appeared in many films, delivers the intense, vulnerable and haunting performance that her demanding role requires.
If you go: “Machinal” plays at the American Airlines Theatre through Mar. 2. 227 W. 42nd St., 212-719-1300, roundabouttheatre.org.