Review: Machinal (Greenhouse Theater Center)

| August 15, 2017

Scott Shimizu, Heather Chrisler and Maddie DePorter with (front, l to r) Sarah Rachel Schol, Paul Michael Thomson, Maddie Bu            



Written by Sophie Treadwell 
Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
thru Sept 24  |  tix: $15-$35  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Beautifully unsettling


Paul Michael Thomson, Scott Shimizu, Jonah Winston, Heather Chrisler and Sarah Rachel Schol

Greenhouse Theater Center i/a/w North Central College presents

Review by Lauren Whalen

“DEAD!” read the New York Daily News headline on January 13, 1928. Ruth Snyder was executed, along with her lover Henry Judd Gray, for the murder of Ruth’s husband, Albert Snyder. The method was electrocution and the photo accompanying the headline was Snyder, in the electric chair, at the moment of her death. Among the journalists covering Snyder’s trial was Sophie Treadwell of the New York Herald Tribune. Eight months later, Treadwell’s expressionistic play Machinal hit Broadway. Nearly nine decades after its Heather Chrisler stars as Young Woman in Machinal, Greenhouse Theater Centerdebut, Machinal’s fast-paced and ruthless exploration of what it means to be a woman trapped in a patriarchal society still rings true. Greenhouse Theater Center’s production (produced in association with North Central College) is nothing short of incredible. Jacob Harvey’s direction and Elizabeth Margolius’ movement design, combined with stunning production values and a stellar cast, makes for an unsettling, beautifully grotesque 90 minutes.

Unlike Snyder, who journalists portrayed as cold-blooded and heartless throughout her trial, Machinal’s protagonist (Heather Chrisler) is vulnerable and shy. She doesn’t have many options beyond a draining stenography job and a shared apartment with her overbearing mother (Caren Silkaitis) – until her wealthy, older boss (Sean Gallagher) proposes marriage. Torn between a comfortable lifestyle and faith in true love, she accepts, but at what cost? Over six years, the young woman’s mental state deteriorates, until she finds escape in the arms of another man (Cody Proctor). He can’t stick around, but she can’t stay away – and at any rate, is this love enough to save her?

Heather Chrisler and Carin Silkaitis star in Machinal, Greenhouse Theater CenterCody Proctor and Heather Chrisler star in Machinal, Greenhouse Theater Center Maddie Burke, Heather Chrisler and Scott Shimizu star in Machinal, Greenhouse Theater CenterHeather Chrisler and Sean Gallagher star in Machinal, Greenhouse Theater CenterSean Gallagher and Heather Chrisler star in Machinal, Greenhouse Theater Center

Ninety years later, Machinal still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of the audience member. From beginning to end, this sweet, wistful young woman really doesn’t stand a chance. Her decline is inevitable, until it’s too late and her actions have the direst of consequences. She wants real love, yes, but more than that she wants “freedom” – and she’s not even sure what that really means. Director Harvey doesn’t sugarcoat matters, making the audience uneasy from the first moment, and the Margolius’ movement design is equally brutal. Dark humor abounds, and the sequence between the young woman and her lover is tender and sweet, a much needed interlude among the emotional (and eventually physical) carnage. Eleanor Kahn’s scenic design has the feel of a prison – one can practically hear the lights buzz as they sit down, and feel the young woman’s claustrophobia and discomfort in her office, in her home, in her head. The ensemble members play several roles each in a way that’s nimble and adept, and both Gallagher and Proctor shine as the men in the young woman’s life, each doing their best but unable to give her exactly what she wants and needs. And as the young woman, Chrisler is Jeff-worthy, her wide eyes, hunched posture and tentative diction giving way to a breakdown that is completely and utterly believable.

One could leave Machinal and reflect on how lucky women are now, to have so many options. That’s partly true, I suppose, but said options are constantly at stake, with a President who’s openly bragged about sexual assault and an administration that constantly tries to defund women’s health care options. That’s to say nothing of the LGBTQ population, and well, anyone who’s not a straight, cisgender white male. I first read Machinal in college, as a women’s studies minor just getting used to the word “feminist.” Years later, it resonates even more strongly, unsettling me to my very core.

Rating: ★★★★

Machinal continues through September 24th at Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays 7:30pm, Sundays 2:30pm.  Tickets are $35 (students: $15), and are available by phone (773-404-7336) or online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 90 minutes, no intermission)

Scott Shimizu, Heather Chrisler and Maddie DePorter with (front, l to r) Sarah Rachel Schol, Paul Michael Thomson, Maddie Bu

Photos by Evan Hanover




Heather Chrisler (Young Woman), Sean Gallagher (Husband), Carin Silkaitis (Mother), Cody Proctor (Lover)

Ensemble: Maddie Burke, Maddie DePorter, Sarah Rachel Schol, Scott Shimizu, Paul Michael Thomson, Jonah Winston

North Central College Understudy Cast: Abigail Schwarz (Young Woman), Sarah Irene Rosenberg (Mother), Alex Moerer (Husband), Alexander James Poe (Lover), Ensemble: Jake Elkins, Bridget Adams-King, Kellyn Maguire, Jack Morsovillo, Cody Talkie

behind the scenes

Jacob Harvey (director), Elizabeth Margolius (movement direction), Nick Thornton (associate director, movement coordinator), Eleanor Kahn (scenic design props design), Jeffrey Levin (sound design, original music), Darek Lane (stage manager), Adrian Shelton (dramaturg), Eric Watkins (lighting design), Christina Leinicke (costume design), Stephen Kossak (assistant stage manager), Evan Hanover (photos)

North Central College Assistant Production Staff: Ruby Lowe (assistant scenic, props design), Caitlin O’Brien (assistant costume design), Emily Marrazzo (assistant dramaturg)


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Greenhouse Theater, Greenhouse Theater Center, Lauren Whalen

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