Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Machinal at SFU

Just a quick shout-out re SFU Theatre's current production of Machinal on Burnaby Campus. Directed by Steven Hill (of Leaky Heaven Circus fame), and featuring the BFA acting cohort in the School for the Contemporary Arts, the production is a smart and sexy updating of Sophie Treadwell's 1928 expressionistic play, a Broadway hit based on the real-life sensational murder trial of Ruth Snyder that also features some biting social commentary on both the work of art and the work of gender in the age of mechanical reproduction.

I'm not familiar enough with the playtext to pinpoint what all in this production is intrinsic to the script and what Hill and his wonderfully talented cast and crew have added to it (although it's a safe bet the songs, the choreography, and much of the staging is new). The production's spatial and sonic architecture are perhaps its most complex elements, and there are some wonderful visual and aural coups-de-théâtre throughout. I'm not sure every one of these moments works, but none is completely superfluous, and clearly a great deal of thought has been put into updating the play's themes for our contemporary digital era. The play's courtroom climax (and talk about the use of architecture) is downright operatic, and the whole tightly structured, intermissionless 90 minutes has something of a Gesamtkunstwerk feel about it.

Senior acting student Mercedes Smolders shines in the central role of Young Woman, and Sean Marshall is suitably oily as her oppressive boss and then husband, Mr. Jones. Conor Wylie, as the Young Woman's lover, is also impressive and completely unselfconscious about having to spend most of the play in red bikini underwear. Most of the rest of the cast--who also spend chunks of the play in their undies (did Costume Designer Flo Barrett source these garments, I wonder, or just ask the cast to bring their own?)--is equally brilliant in a variety of roles. However, I must make special mention of two of my ENGL 103 students: Nikki Hockey plays Young Woman 3, Guard 1, and a Pregnant Woman, and has great stage presence throughout; Sadie Henschel plays the Court Reporter, the Jail Singer, and a Pregnant Woman as well. Not only can Sadie work a rolling office chair with nimble dexterity, but she sings beautifully. You go, girls!

The play continues at the Burnaby Campus theatre tonight through Saturday at 8 pm, with an additional Saturday matinee at 2 pm. It's definitely worth the trek up the mountain to take in this ambitious production.