Woman against the machine

Haifa-based director Sinai Peter has brought a revival of Sophie Treadwell's Machinal to the Jerusalem stage. The play was first produced on Broadway in 1928, based on the 1927 trial of Ruth Snyder (1895-1928) who was executed in the electric chair at Sing Sing for the murder of her husband, together with her lover and co-conspirator Judd Gray. Treadwell was a journalist, women's rights advocate, novelist, and one of the America's most important female playwrights of the first half of the 20th century. She authored 40 plays, of which Machinal is the most famous. Its first staging starred Clark Gable and has since been revived several times, especially in the last 10 years. Its most notable productions were staged at the Royal National Theater in London, the New York Shakespeare Festival, and the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. Treadwell was one of the journalists who covered Snyder's trial at the time and she was inspired to write the play. The protagonist, Helen (played by Sharon Stark) is an unhappy young woman who hates her job as a stenographer, but must stick it out because she needs the money. Her sick mother pushes her towards a loveless marriage with her boss (Aryeh Cherner) in order to improve their financial situation and Helen finds herself with a daughter and a husband she doesn't care for. After several years, Helen goes out one night to a speakeasy and finds herself attracted to a charming young criminal (Liron Baranef). Having fallen for him, she realizes she can no longer live her farce of a life, and feels pushed to the point of committing murder in order to gain her freedom. "All the characters around her are parts of the same machine," remarked Peter in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. "They are parts of her search for passion in a world lacking love." He calls the play "expressionist drama, lyrical, not realist" and says he was inspired bring it to the stage in Israel five years ago when he first read it. At the time he was artistic director of the Haifa Theater, but says that by the time he managed to secure the rights to the play he was no longer in Haifa and so decided to stage it in Jerusalem with a cast from the Khan Theater. Peter chose the script because he says, "it's a very touching story that deals with a woman set against the machine of society." He built an abstract set which is both a radio studio and a stage for the action. "The presenter is both empathetic and also in favor of the death penalty, and the action is comprised of 9 tableaus, in all of it a very touching story. Machinal was translated by Yosef Al Dror, the music composed by Shosh Raizman, lighting by Roni Cohen, costumes by Dalia Pen and theater movement choreography by Marina Baltov. Ofer Shanchin plays the presenter who "conducts the musical machine." Machinal will be performed at the Khan Theater in Jerusalem on June 21 and 22. Several dates in July have yet to be announced.