The Colgate Scene
January 2005

Making Machinal tick, tick, click

As she realizes that she is trapped in her life, Helen (Alice Winslow '08) lets out a scream that is eclipsed by a factory whistle. Sophie Treadwell's Machinal, performed by University Theater during Family Weekend in October, is an examination of society's expectations for women and what happens when one chooses to break out of the imposed formula.

As the echoes of stage construction subside, the cast forms a huddle and starts to bounce, chanting "Bal-con-y! Bal-con-y!" (as an appeal "to the `balcony gods' that we would fill all the seats," Sian-Pierre Regis '06 later explained). One by one, with building intensity, each member breaks off, and continues to pogo, still chanting. The students are revved up to perform Machinal, based on the true story of Ruth Snyder and the events that led to her execution in 1928.

The play's urban environment amplifies the machine-like qualities of "successful" human beings. Often tempo and pace are marked by rhythmic repetitions in dialogue or sound, such as typewriters. Helen, the main character, struggles to conform to society's expectations of women and ultimately lashes out by killing her husband.

"For students, there's a lot there to think about, and the play draws on studies in and out of the theater department in interesting ways," said director Sarah Bay-Cheng, assistant professor of English and theater. She noted that University Theater's production of Machinal fit well with several fall academic classes, including one Core course she taught, The Challenge of Modernity.

For more, visit Colgate In the News Archives (Oct. 20) at

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