What drove Ruth Snyder, a seemingly innocuous Long Island housewife, to conspire with her lover, Judd Gray, to murder her husband?
The murder trial created a media frenzy that did not abate until the electric chair executions of the two defendants in January 1928. Snyder was the first woman executed in New York State in the 20th century.
The trial became a springboard for playwright Sophie Treadwell’s own speculations about what circumstances might have driven Snyder to commit such a violent crime. The result is an expressionist drama titled Machinal, which has become Treadwell’s greatest critical success.
The Northland Pioneer College Performing Arts Department is conducting auditions for April performances of Machinal on Tuesday and Thursday, January 10 and 12, at 6 p.m. on both nights, at the NPC Performing Arts Center on the Snowflake/Taylor, Silver Creek Campus, 1611 S. Main St.
Performing Arts Director Dr. Mike Solomonson recommends preparing a one-minute comic or dramatic monologue of your choice. There will also be cold readings from the script as part of the audition process. The play contains mild adult language. Casting is flexible, but Solomonson is looking for seven women and six men.
Treadwell divided Machinal into nine scenes, each of which depicts, according to the play’s stage directions, “the different phases of life that a woman comes in contact with, and in none of which she finds any place, any peace.” The social institutions or environments that define expectations for women’s behavior are reflected in the titles of the scenes: To Business, At Home, Honeymoon, Maternal, Prohibited, Intimate, Domestic, The Machine, and The Law. The play uses lengthy monologues by the central character of the young woman, snippets of overheard dialogue, and an extensive network of sound effects.
Treadwell’s innovative style drew praise from critics when the play first premiered on Broadway in September 1928. Noted drama critic Oliver M. Sayler, writing in Footlights and Lamplights, described Machinal as, “one of the first [plays] by an American dramatist successfully to merge expressionist form and expressionist content,” and in doing so “frequently touches more startling heights and lucid vision than Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones and Strange Interlude.” Machinal was also produced internationally, including productions in Russia. Treadwell actually traveled to Russia for the production and was the first American dramatist to receive production royalties from the Soviet Union. The play aired on American television in 1954 and 1960 and was produced off-Broadway in 1960.
The work was revived by the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1990 and has received numerous productions since.
Treadwell spent the later years of her life in Tucson, donating her papers to the University of Arizona and her copyrights to Tucson’s Roman Catholic Diocese. All production royalties are used for the education of Native American children. Questions about Machinal auditions or spring 2017 performing arts classes can be directed to performing arts department chair Dr. Mike Solomonson at (928) 536-6217.