Richard and my best friend Karen and I went to see *Machinal* on Broadway on Friday 1/31. This is a 1928 play by Sophie Treadwell, inspired by the story of Ruth Snyder, an American woman who killed her husband and was executed in the electric chair. I saw this play in college and was so thrilled by it that I wrote an operatic setting of the first scene. A funny story: my first opera, *Ladies’ Voices*, is eight minutes long. An eight-minute jewel! When I wrote the first scene of *Machinal* it seemed like it was a lot more involved, would be longer. I was thinking fifteen minutes, maybe twelve minutes. I wrote it, and as soon as I wrote the last note I took the score, noted the time, and sang through the whole thing from start to finish, to see how long it was. About halfway through I looked at the clock, concerned. I finished and the damn thing was SIX MINUTES LONG! Too funny. I have some good ideas of how to write the rest of the opera, but I need to write that opera about the Duchess of Windsor first.
Anyway, I was excited to see the play, plus it had a rare miracle of timing: a 7 PM start time, and a ninety-minute run time! You gotta love that. I went to the box office before dinner to pick up the tickets. There was a couple in their seventies at one window and a guy in his seventies at the other window. Both transactions took ten minutes. It seemed that they were looking at every available seat for every performance for all five shows they were selling. It was enormously frustrating, because my transaction took all of thirty seconds!
But I had a reward outside the theater: I passed the star of the show, Rebecca Hall, on the sidewalk. She is gorgeous and VERY tall. Maybe she was wearing boots or something, but she was just as tall as I am. You might have seen her in *Vicky Cristina Barcelona* or *The Town* or *Iron Man 3*. She has a background in the theatre, has done a lot of stage work in London, and has quite a theatrical pedigree - - her parents are the director Peter Hall and the opera singer Maria Ewing. This is her Broadway debut, and she did a very good job. The show was sort of a mixed bag: it’s very dated, American Expressionism doesn’t hold up so well eighty years later, it’s a little stale. The characters are rather flat, which I’m sure was intentional, but I would have liked a little more depth in the central character, the young woman. She seemed neurotic, like a caged animal, from the get-go. I thought of Cate Blanchett in *A Streetcar Named Desire*, which we saw at BAM a few years ago - - her Blanche Dubois was so much more heart-breaking than other Blanches I’ve seen because she held it together through most of the play. Her final breakdown was much more powerful because you sensed the strain of keeping it together earlier in the show. Hall could have used some of that.
You certainly couldn’t have asked for a better production of the play - - the set, in particular, was fantastic. It was a wooden box on a turntable, used very effectively. The first scene was on the subway. The set turned 180 degrees and she was in the factory office where she worked. It turned again and she was in her cold-water flat with her mother. At the end of the play she was in her jail cell. She was led out of her cell, around the corner, and I expected that the other side of the set would be where she was being executed. But it wasn’t! She kept walking, and the set did another revolve before they got to the electric chair. That was chilling, it really drove home the drama of the dead woman walking.