For a very modest price ($6 or $12) you can see outstanding theatrical productions performed by students of the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA Acting and Directing Programs. Their latest production is Sophie Treadwell’s expressionistic “Machinal,” which premiered in 1928 and was revived in 1994, winning the Laurence Oliver Award for Best Revival.
Tilly Grimes has created a most unusual environment for the 90-minute, one-act play, confining the audience inside a small movie-theatre-like space surrounded by sheets of plastic, looking into a “screen” that gives the effects of a 3D movie. Another plastic sheet covers the stage and is slowly cut away as the plot develops.
The plot, based on a true story about the first woman convicted of murder to be executed in the electric chair, unfolds in layers, with the writer using repetitious chanting and short sentences, which at times seems a bit overdone, but sets the tone for the expressionistic atmosphere of the production.
Jaime Rosenstein is excellent as the “young woman” who has been held down by her mother and threatened by her boss (Drew Ledbetter) to the breaking point. All she wants is a little freedom, but she succumbs to marrying her repulsive boss, having his baby, and then having an affair with a man (Alston Brown) who resists any commitment. She eventually takes matters into her own hands. Her fate finally frees her from her mother and her husband.
The somber allegory about a woman’s quest to be free is a bit dated but still packs a wallop. The basic story is unfurled in an original esoteric style that speaks well for director Aubrey Snowden and the fine cast. Once again, the students of the MFA program tackle a difficult play, showing their skills on and in back of the stage.
“Machinal” is presented in the Pell/Chafee Performance Center’s Citizens Bank Theatre on Empire St., around the corner from Trinity Rep. It runs through December 16. For reservations call 351-4242.