PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Machinal—A Showstopper: The Set

By Harry Haun
17 Jan 2014

Michael Cumpsty
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Hall inhabits a shadowy, depressing universe, beautifully conveyed in Jane Cox's lighting design — and she gives full credit for the ambience to the person who deserves it.

"Lindsey Turner is an extraordinary director, and I've got to say in her favor there's a lot of direction, but there's not a piece of direction or a piece of production that does not serve the truth of the play. That has always been her M.O. from the beginning, to make the play be heard. And I think we're doing it."

It was Turner who turned Hall on to Machinal, which the actress thinks is long overdue a renaissance. "I really hope that people rediscover it," she admitted. "It is talked about plenty in academic circles, but it should be a living play in our consciousness and our repertoire. I am shocked that it isn't done more frequently."

Michael Cumpsty, radically reversing engines from his last American Airlines Theatre outing, has gone from the sensitive suitor in The Winslow Boy to the overbearing husband here, but he had little to say about that — or anything. He got through the play but felt his throat tightening in his first TV interview and spent the rest of the evening on vocal rest, speaking softly but mostly miming.

In the mother role, Suzanne Bertish said that neither she nor Hall had a problem with the American accent because "after all, we both had American mothers."

Taking the play from the top again, she said, "was strange, but we had to go back to the beginning to get the full effect. What I loved was working with this ensemble and this terrific director. I've been working 40 years, and she's on a hand of five. She's that great. You can tell. It's wonderful to be in a great play, and I believe this is a great play and what we all believe to be a great production. That's a real privilege."

The character identified only as Lover — which launched Clark Gable on Broadway and, two plays later, to Hollywood — has been inherited by Morgan Spector, who refuses to let a little statistic like that weigh him down: "Every Broadway revival has a legacy," he reasoned, "and it's exciting to be a part of that legacy." Period.

The staccato speaking style was fun for him. "The language is structured in such a way it's natural and also has that kind of period energy. It's fast like His Girl Friday. You get on that back-and-forth rat-a-tat. It's got a very satisfying rhythm to it."

As for That Other Incident: "Honestly, in addition to pure adrenaline, it was one of the most exhilarating nights I've ever had in my whole life. When you have an audience that gets on your side that way and Lindsey's backstage rallying the whole crew and those guys jumping up from the house to rescue us — I just found it amazing."

Ashley Bell, who mans the switchboard in the office scene, thought Turner's backstage pep talk to the troops had a St. Crispin's Day ring to it. "She came backstage and said, 'Sophie Treadwell will be heard on Broadway again, by hook or by crook, so get ready! We're going again!' The people who built the machine were in audience, and came backstage asking, 'What can we do?' Also, stage managers were calling stagehands from the other Broadway houses, so people were running in, using the tunnels to get into the theatre so they could help move the stage.

"And this audience was the best audience in the world. You guys were such a warm house. When you guys started applauding again when we came back for the subway scene, I momentarily started to tear up, and then I thought, 'Oh, you gotta do the show, and I'm up next.' It was the most exciting thing I ever lived through."

One of several in this cast of 18 to be double-cast, Arnie Burton, has a nice (if ineffective) day in court defending Hall and a good night as a speakeasy sleaze. "This may be the first, certainly American, play that has a gay man obviously trying to pick up a younger man. All that was in the play. A few months before Machinal, Mae West was arrested for her play, Sex, which had gay men in it, and they shut it down."

After the show, he said, "We hugged, had a glass of champagne, knocked back some whiskey. We're all still a little stunned by it all, I must say. I found the curtain call very moving — all those guys who had taken off their suits, rolled up their sleeves and started moving the set, watching them take their bows. You're always saying the show must go on, and you're so used to it, but tonight we really had to do it."