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'Machinal' portrays woman's rebellion against role in society

Augustana College will present the play "Machinal," the story of a woman's rebellion again her husband and society, Oct. 16-18 and 23-25.

The play's title means "automatic" or "mechanical" in French and is based on the 1927 trial of a woman and her lover, who together murdered her husband in New York City. The journalist and playwright, Sophie Treadwell, often wrote about the women's issues of her time and her Mexican heritage. "Machinal" is her best-known work and first was presented on Broadway in 1928.

In the play, the woman works as a stenographer and lives with her mother. She follows the rituals that society expects of a woman, however resistant she may feel about them, and subsequently marries her boss, whom she finds repulsive. After having a baby with him, followed by an affair with a younger man who fuels her lust for life, she is driven to murder, found guilty and executed. (Wikipedia)

"This show has been very interesting to put on, especially since Sophie Treadwell was an amazing Mexican-American female playwright who isn't generally acknowledged in most theater anthologies," said dramaturg Audrey Johnsen.

Director Dr. Jennifer Popple said she has wanted to direct this play ever since she first read it 15 years ago.

"As theatre scholars challenge the restrictions of our traditional canon, plays like this one have risen up as masterpieces that were just shuffled to the side because they were written by traditionally marginalized people, in this case, a female playwright," she said. "I would contend that "Machinal" is the greatest Expressionist play ever written and I am thrilled that so many theatres and scholars are studying and performing it.

"The play is about a real woman but feels as urgent today as it must have when it premiered in 1928. The play's focus, the person who doesn't fit in to a cold, impersonal world, is moving and important to discuss today."

She said the cast and crew have enjoyed the creative process of preparing "Machinal," and working with a beatboxer, senior Caleb Ivey, in order to bring the sounds of this "world" to life each performance.

"I have never used choreography in a non-musical," she said, "but we have had a movement coach who has helped with the mechanized movements of the actors when they are inside the "machine." Between that and the live sound production by our student beatboxer, it has been my most challenging play to date. But the work is exciting and raw, and it will be amazing to see it all come together."

Assistant director junior Keila Saucedo said the large production team and intimate cast dynamic created a community of learning.

"This is a model I was first introduced to by having Dr. Popple as a professor," she said. "She creates an even playing field so that everyone, regardless of role or position, had the artistic integrity to make their own creative choices and flourish. It also means that when other people don't agree, we talk about it openly, we see how it works and we come together to decide what is best for the show."

"Machinal" features students Christine Broughton, Debo Balogun, Keenan Odenkirk, Emily Mason, Emily Johnson, Andrew Gilson, Thomas Hand, Sarah Baker, Joshua Pride and Jenna Stitt.

Students Lauren Davis and Joe Oliger are the stage manager and assistant stage manager. Lindsey Graham serves as movement coach, and Allyson Jesse is makeup designer.

Augustana faculty/staff involved in the project are Andy Gutshall, technical director/lighting designer and Ellen Dixon, costume designer. The set was designed by Augustana alumna Susan Holgersson, who designed last season's "Aesop's (Oh So Slightly) Updated Fables" and "As You Like It."

"Machinal" contains adult themes and may not be appropriate for younger audiences.

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