A dark indictment of modern society’s noxious impact upon the human spirit, “Machinal” materialized on Broadway in 1928 and has been rarely staged since in New York other than in a notable 1990 revival by director Michael Greif at the Public Theater. Roundabout Theatre Company now brings back Sophie Treadwell’s drama to Broadway in an absorbing production that opened on Thursday at the American Airlines Theater, where the play is likely to fascinate some viewers and simply depress others.
Performed without an intermission, the episodic 90-minute drama spins around Helen, a young office drudge who is buffeted by an ugly urban existence. A loveless marriage to her crass employer yields a child who brings Helen no joy. An affair with a footloose man leads to a crime that sends Helen on a date with the electric chair. Apologies for this semi-spoiler, but Treadwell’s Jazz Age story (inspired by the notorious Ruth Snyder case) is not as significant as her theme and the ways that she dramatizes it.