Occidental’s theater department ran their production of the feminist play “Machinal” Nov 9. through Nov. 11 in Keck Theater. Sarah Kozinn, assistant professor of theater, directed the production. According to the dramaturg notes — research notes that clarify the historical context of the play — written by Isabella Camfield (senior), journalist Sophie Treadwell wrote “Machinal” in 1928. Treadwell was inspired to write the play in light of Ruth Snyder’s 1927 murder trial in which she was tried and found guilty by an all-male jury and a male judge. This made Snyder the first woman in New York to be put to death by the electric chair.
Camfield’s work as the dramaturg — the person conducting research on the play — was part of her senior comprehensive project (comps). Seniors London Murray, Kerensa Nagle and Elena Sánchez all performed in the play, using their performances as partial fulfillment for their senior comps, according to the play’s program.
“The story itself is super compelling because it is based on a real trial that happened in the 1920s,” Murray said.
“Machinal” explores the social pressures and the potential motives Snyder had to murder her husband, according to the program. Over the course of nine acts, Treadwell, who attended Snyder’s trial, gives voice to the primary protagonist, the Young Woman. The Young Woman, played by Dyoni Isom (junior), embarks on a journey of self-identification and exploration throughout the show.
“[Treadwell] employs expressionist techniques to put audiences inside the mind of the Young Woman in order to experience how and why she may have believed murdering her husband to be an act of liberation,” Camfield wrote in the program.
According to Kozinn, the similarities between the socio-political environment during the trial and the current political climate in the United States are very apparent and the reason why she chose the production. The dramaturg notes explain how systematic sexualization and degradation of in American society are examples of patterns of behavior that remain the same between the 1920s and today. The motif of hands throughout the play is representative of the patriarchy of manipulation, according to Kozinn. Understanding the protagonists’ struggles throughout is essential to grasping the mistakes of the past while paving the way for a better future, according to the dramaturg notes.
“Last year, after the election and Trump’s win, it seemed like the right time to be doing a feminist play,” Kozinn said.
Camaraderie, teamwork and a sense of community were all integral components of the rehearsal and cast bonding according, to both Kozinn and Murray. The rehearsal process began with exercises facilitated by LAVA, a feminist acrobat troupe from Brooklyn, New York. Acrobatics and dance choreography were integrated at various points throughout the show. Isom, who has performed in one other Mainstage production — a show produced in Keck theater —and two studio shows, in addition to being a member of the Occidental Children’s Theater Troupe, said the cast was able to bond while practicing acrobatic lifts. Kozinn agreed and said that the collaborative cast was particularly enjoyable to work with.
“The group we have of 13 has been amazing,” Kozinn said. “For me, it’s really important that they feel they have a stake in the creative process.”
Murray played both the Mother and the Lover. Playing two such distinct and different roles was interesting and rewarding to learn, according to Murray. Having never taken an acting class prior to attending Occidental, Murray notes that she had an incredible experience learning and progressing in the department.
“I really like the theater department here, our faculty are really great,” Murray said. “We have a lot of professors who really know their stuff.”
Both the story and the technical aspects of the production blended together in an intriguing and artful way that truly carried the plot of the story forward in an expressionistic manner, according to Murray. The lighting and sound design were done by outside guest artists Wesley Chew and John Zalewski. First-time head stage manager, Isabel Schwartzberg (junior), was in charge of the sound, lighting and other technical cues throughout the run of the show. Schwartzberg was responsible for handling logistics throughout the audition and rehearsing processes as well. The transitions within the show had lots of complicated moving parts, including intricate acrobatic numbers during lighting changes, according to Schwartzberg.
“This is the biggest cast I’ve worked with that’s been this cohesive,” Schwartzberg said.
Hilary Oglesby (first year) and Makaela Vogel (first year) were makeup designers for the production. Behind the scenes, the cast was always energetic according to Vogel. Both Oglesby and Vogel stated that they enjoyed doing the makeup design for all of the different characters and getting a chance to know the actors individually.
“It’s extremely impressive and the cast is amazing,” Vogel said.
The next Mainstage production, “Country Music,” will open in three weeks. “Country Music” is written by Simon Stephen and directed by Theater Department Chair John Bouchard. The show will run from Nov. 30 through Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 3 at 2 p.m. in Keck Theater.