Two for the Treadwell — Rebecca Hall Makes Her Broadway Debut in Sophie Treadwell's Machinal

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05 Jan 2014

Rebecca Hall
Rebecca Hall
Photo by Jeff Vespa

Rebecca Hall chats with about making her Broadway debut in the politically charged play Machinal.


Two forward-thinking British females — actress Rebecca Hall and director Lyndsey Turner — are coming to the rescue of an American damsel long in distress, making their Broadway debuts with the first Main Stem revival of a Sophie Treadwell play.

Treadwell straddled two male-dominated worlds during the first half of the twentieth century — journalism and playwriting — and somehow, unfairly, slipped through the cracks of both. Her most famous work, Machinal, came out of both professions, and, courtesy of Roundabout Theatre, it is coming back to Broadway Jan. 16 to the American Airlines Theatre, 86 years and four days after the event that inspired it.

Treadwell was moved, deeply, to write this play when she saw on the front page of the New York Daily News — the iconic, if illegal, news photo of Ruth Snyder, bound and masked, dying in the electric chair — and it occurred to her what little say women had in the chaotic transition from the Victorian to the Industrial Age. The rhythm of life changed with mechanical innovations, reducing human beings to cogs in wheels.

She had it on Broadway less than nine months after the execution, written in an Expressionistic style then popular in Europe. Principals in the Snyder love triangle were identified only as A Young Woman, A Husband and A Man — Clark Gable thoroughly filling the bill as the latter in his pre-Hollywood, Broadway debut. In 1993 a quite famous revival was done in London at the National Theatre, directed by Stephen Daldry and starring Fiona Shaw, John Woodvine and Ciarán Hinds.

"I knew Machinal from that production, but I didn't see it — I would have been [an] 11-year-old at the time!" said Hall, who shares the Roundabout triangle with Michael Cumpsty and Morgan Spector. She seemed a little apologetic and regretful about it. When director Turner proposed a revival with her as the Young Woman, Hall didn't hesitate.

"I just instantly responded to her. She hasn't directed me before, but I felt such an overwhelming trust in her presence that I knew I could probably do anything she asked me to do."

As written in a generalized long-shot by Treadwell, her character seems average. "In the play, she's described as a young woman who's like any woman. I think Treadwell is trying to say there is nothing particularly extraordinary about her. She's an Everywoman, and the story's about how an ordinary woman, in not extraordinary circumstances, is driven to murder. Nothing makes her mad or crazy. She's normal."


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