Inspired by the true story of Ruth Snyder, a Long Island woman who murdered her husband and died for her crimes, Machinal is a fast paced and intelligent play. Helen is the focal point of the piece, starting out as a meager office worker and eventually entering a marriage she does not want. As time goes on, she is more and more dissatisfied. She views her life as one of submission until she can take no more, and her final act of defiance is murder.
ACT has done an excellent job with this piece. Director Lee Mikeska Gardner does a superb job of setting the mood. Even though it tends to be dark and even a bit eerie at times, the movement of the show is not inhibited.
Marni Penning gives a stunning performance as Helen. Her portrayal is raw and guttural. She uses her body well, conveying the tiniest nuance. She is joined by ACT vet, John C. Bailey, who is outstanding as Helenís obtuse husband. Even though his character shows a lot of bluster, Bailey manages to bring humanity to a role that could easily be lost in translation. Carlos Bustamante plays a number of roles, including the seductive Richard Roe. Bustamante delivers a very strong performance and shows a great amount of appeal.
This group is joined by an outstanding ensemble. Standouts include ACT vets Joe Cronin, Annie Houston, and Danielle Davy; all three provide memorable performances in a variety of roles. On the night this reviewer attended, an ensemble member was a no show. However, in keeping with the old adage that the show must go on, Assistant Director Sarah Denhardt stepped up to the plate and filled in. She did an admirable job and there was very little impact to the show as a whole.
Marc A. Wright should be congratulated for his fine lighting design. It succeeded in setting the mood. The set design by Thomas B. Kennedy was minimal but effective. Additionally, Sound Designer Brian Mac Ianís use of a ticking sound effect was perfect.
Machinal is an emotional piece. Though times have changed, this play can still speak to people. The confinements have changed with time but anyone, man or woman, can relate to the frustrations of the expectations of society. Machinal runs through July 24th at Gunston Theatre II.
American Century Theater
Helen: Marni Penning