Machinal. [Expressionist and Feminist Theater]
Typescript for an adaptation of Machinal, a landmark in expressionist and feminist theater.
The play portrays the life, trial, and execution of real-life murderer Ruth Snyder, who died in the electric chair of Sing-Sing Prison that same year for killing her husband. In the play, Snyder is simply referred to as “A Young Woman.”
Despite rave reviews, Machinal’s Broadway premiere ran for just 91 performances. It had a number of excellent productions internationally in the following years. Originally produced as a two-act play with ten “episodes,” this adaptation presents the play in eight episodes Snyder’s life: “Business,” “Home,” “Honeymoon,” “Maternity,” “Prohibition,” “Intimacy,” “Law,” and “Prison (The Machine),” the last episode referring to the electric chair.
This typescript was kept by Kenneth McMullen Dickey (1890–1957), the son of a Kansas City publisher and involved in local theater (see The Jest… Kansas City, Mo.; prepared for private distribution by Kenneth McM. Dickey, 1929). Dickey possibly prepared this adaptation for a regional production of Machinal contemporary with the play’s 1928 Broadway appearance.
In 1916, Sophie Treadwell “became the first accredited woman war correspondent when she was assigned to report on World War I in France ... Critical success came in 1928 with Machinal, an expressionistic drama based on the real-life Ruth Snyder–Judd Gray murder trial, which Treadwell had covered for the Tribune.”
“The play was a psychological study of a simple young woman seeking escape from a whining mother, a monotonous job, and a loveless marriage. She and her lover, played by Clark Gable in his Broadway debut, murder her husband, but the young man flees to Mexico, and her dream of freedom ends with her execution [...] Alison Smith described it as ‘a stabbing, desperate, compassionate recital of a bewildered woman caught in life’s machinery,’ echoing Treadwell’s own description that ‘it is all in the title—Machine-al—machine-like.’” (ANB)
Between the 1920s–1940s we find only one typescript for Machinal, held in microfilm at NYPL. The play is still being performed up to the present day.
Description: Machinal. [Expressionist and Feminist Theater]
[Kansas City, Missouri?, c.1928]. 137pp. Bound Typescript. 11¼ x 8¾ inches. Black cloth with gilt titling on upper cover; orig. cloth reinforced hinges. Pasted-in clippings cut out from an original 1928 Broadway program and theatre publications. Bookplate of Kenneth McM. Dickey. Some fading to spine; rubbing at head and tail of spine and at tips; very good.