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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review

By Laura Hitchcock

I put him out of the way.---Helen
The new young Blank-The-Dog Theatre Company introduces itself with a strikingly innovative production of Sophie Treadwell's 1928 classic Machinal. Inspired by the murder trial of Ruth Snyder who had the dubious honor of being the first woman executed in New York State, Treadwell's impressionistic drama explores the stages of a woman's life.

Artistic Director Nataki Garrett underscores the mechanical aspect which Treadwell incorporated into her depiction of the 20th century by framing her stage in a narrow box with videos playing in the background. The first scene is truly mechanical as the office workers cram the TV-screen effect with their mechanical jobs. There's no humanity until the entrance of Helen, the young stenographer who is constantly lasciviously called into the office of the vice-president Mr. J for dictation and some serious pawing. Helen hates his fat hands but finally succumbs to the need to support her mother by accepting his proposal of marriage. In a battling scene that makes the box look like a Punch-and-Judy set, Helen and Mom duke it out. Helen expresses her anger but finally gives in. In that era, there weren't many options.

The wedding night scene is painful to watch but delicate in comparison to the birth scene. Treadwell's impressionistic drama only runs one hour and forty minutes but some scenes seem to go on too long. The birth scene is one and the love scene between Helen and Richard, a man she meets in a bar, is another. The bar scene itself uses Garrett's box effect brilliantly as the actors appear to lean on it confronting us as if we were the bartender. There's a scene at home with Helen and her husband, a well-meaning obtuse businessman, and it's very clear why Helen cringes from his greedy innocuous touch.

Finally, the box is dispensed with for a full-stage presentation of Helen's trial and execution. When Helen finally confesses and is asked why she didn't just divorce her husband instead of killing him, she replies that she couldn't bear to hurt him. The journalists roar with laughter and the man can't speak for himself but Helen's passive-aggressive motivation is very clear.

The final scene utilizes a video of a woman sinking through deep water as Helen, in the electric chair, confronts her feelings, the helpless unfeeling mother who uses her and the impersonal society that condemns her. Blank-The-Dog is very fortunate in its brilliant tArtistic Director, Nataki Garrett. She is a stunning innovative presence and one to watch. The excellent cast is headed by Amanda Maria Lorca as Helen who dynamically manages the segue from cowed vulnerability to passion.. Efren Selgadillo designed the powerfully effective set, augmented by Laura Mrozckowski's piercing lighting design.

Elyse Sommer saw a very effective revival of this play, some seasons ago. It was also staged by a small, extremely creative company. Go here to read a review of that production.

Playwright: Sophie Treadwell
Director: Nataki Garrett
Cast: Amanda Maria Lorca (Young Woman), Ja'Nai Amey, Shaughn Buchholz, Dustin Lancaster, Carla Nassy, Marco Neves, Rendon Ramsey, Jin Suh (Ensemble)
Set Design: Efren Delgadillo
Lighting Design: Laura Mrozckowski
Costume Design: Rachel Eberhart
Sound Design: Vikram Kirby
Video Design: Austin Switser
Running Time: One hour forty minutes, no intermission
From 11/04/04 to 12/11/04
The Strasberg Institute, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, Phone: (323) 692-1079.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on.November 6, 2004.
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