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Theatre / Machinal

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A Machine.

"They were a bunch of bandidos- bandits you know- holding me there- what was I to do- I had to get free- didn't I? I had to get free-"
The Voice of Her Lover

Machinal is a 1928 play by Sophie Treadwell, largely based off the real life murderer Ruth Snyder. Told over the course of nine "episodes" it follows the story of A Young Woman living in New York during the Roaring Twenties. Stuck in a dead-end job, having to care for both herself and her Mother, she decides to marry her Boss for his money, despite having no feelings towards him whatsoever. After having a fling with a young man whom she meets at a speakeasy, she ultimately decides to murder her husband to get free, and is subsequently arrested and executed for the murder.

The play opened on Broadway and ran for 91 performances at the Plymouth Theatre, with numerous revivals starting in 1960. The play is notable for not naming any of the characters in the script, leaving it entirely up to the dialogue.


You can read the entire script here.

Machinal contains examples of:

  • Alas, Poor Villain: The play. A young woman sees no way for her and her mother out of poverty except by marrying the unattractive vice president of her company, ends up bearing his child, finds the closest thing to love she's ever known in the arms of another man with a roving tendency, kills her husband with her lover's gift, and is sentenced to die in the electric chair.
  • All There in the Manual: Inverted. The script doesn't call anyone by their given name, leaving it entirely up to the dialogue.
  • Arc Words:
    • "Stones. Small stones. Pebbles. Precious stones."
    • "Breathe."
  • Depraved Homosexual: Episode Five features a middle-aged man grooming a young boy with alcohol at a speakeasy.
  • Foreign Language Title: Machinal is French for "mechanical."
  • Gold Digger: The main character, tired of working as a stenographer for both herself and her mother, while living out of an apartment in 1920s New York, decides to marry her rich boss despite being repulsed by him at the end of the second episode.
  • Advertisement:
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Defied by the man at table one in Episode Five, who claims that "most women don't think anything about it." In the end, his girlfriend decides to get the abortion.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Combined with Ripped from the Headlines. Ruth Snyder, whom the main character is based on, first took out a life insurance policy on her husband, Albert Snyder, for nearly 50 thousand dollars. She attempted to kill him no less than seven times, before both she and her lover, Henry Judd Gray, garroted him and stuffed his nose with chloroform.
  • I'm Cold... So Cold...: Almost immediately before his death, the Woman's husband is convinced there's a window letting in cold air.
  • I Want My Mommy!: Overwhelmed by her new husband on their honeymoon, the Young Woman ends up crying for her Ma at the end of Episode Three.
  • Our Acts Are Different: Instead of scenes and acts, there are nine "Episodes" each with their own title. The intermission usually comes in after Episode Four.
  • Smoking Gun: The Young Woman is able to answer the tough questions posed by the prosecutor at her trial, until he produces a letter from her lover, who testifies that he did indeed give her the murder weapon, AND that he had sexual relations with her, providing a clear motive.
  • Villain Protagonist: The main character marries a man just to get his money, cheats on him, then bashes in his skull with a bowl of stones. No matter how easy it is to feel bad for her by the end, nothing was stopping her from simply divorcing him.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: The Young Woman becomes this in Episode Seven.

You'll submit, my lady. Right to the end you'll submit!

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