Machinal is a 1928 play by American playwright and journalist Sophie Treadwell, inspired by the real-life case of convicted and executed murderer Ruth Snyder. Its Broadway premiere, directed by Arthur Hopkins, is considered one of the highpoints of Expressionist theatre on the American stage.

Zita Johann and Clark Gable in the original Broadway production of Machinal (1928)
Written bySophie Treadwell
Date premieredSeptember 7, 1928
Place premieredPlymouth Theatre
Original languageEnglish
SettingAn office; a flat; a hotel; a hospital; a speakeasy; a furnished room; a drawing room; a court room; a prison; in the dark


A young woman works as a low-level stenographer and lives with her mother. She follows the rituals that society expects of a woman, however resistant she may feel about them. She subsequently marries her boss, whom she finds repulsive. After having a baby with him, she has an affair with a younger man who fuels her lust for life. Driven to murder her husband, she is convicted of the crime and is executed in the electric chair.


Set design by Robert Edmond Jones for the court room in Machinal
Set design by Robert Edmond Jones for the condemned woman's cell in Machinal

Produced and directed by Arthur Hopkins, Machinal opened on Broadway at the Plymouth Theatre on September 7, 1928, and closed on November 24, 1928, after 91 performances. The scenic design was by Robert Edmond Jones,[1] who used an open stage with a permanent background and made scene changes primarily with lighting.[2] The play is presented in two parts, with ten scenes in the first and four in the second.[3] The production is notable for featuring Clark Gable in his Broadway debut.


  • Zita Johann as A Young Woman[3]
  • Millicent Green as A Telephone Girl[3]
  • Grace Atwell as A Stenographer[3]
  • Leopold Badia as A Filing Clerk[3]
  • Conway Washburn as An Adding Clerk and A Reporter[3]
  • Jean Adair as A Mother[3]
  • George Stillwell as A Husband[3]
  • Otto Frederick as A Bellboy and A Court Reporter[3]
  • Nancy Allan as A Nurse[3]
  • Monroe Childs as A Doctor[3]
  • Hal K. Dawson as A Young Man and Third Reporter[3]
  • Zenaide Ziegfeld as A Girl[3]
  • Jess Sidney as A Man[3]
  • Clyde Stork as A Boy[3]
  • Clark Gable as A Man[3]
  • Hugh M. Hite as Another Man and Second Reporter[3]
  • John Hanley as A Waiter, A Bailiff and A Jailer[3]
  • Tom Waters as A Judge[3]
  • John Connery as A Lawyer for Defense[3]
  • James Macdonald as A Lawyer for Prosecution[3]
  • Mrs. Charles Willard as A Matron[3]
  • Charles Kennedy as A Priest[3]

In Britain, the play was first performed under the title The Life Machine in 1931.[4]


"It was unfortunate that word was sent broadcast before the first performance of Machinal that its theme and characters grew out of the notorious Snyder-Gray murder case," wrote Perriton Maxwell, editor of Theatre Magazine. "The play bears no likeness to the sordid facts of that cheap tragedy … Machinal transcends the drab drama of the police court; it has a quality one finds it difficult to define, a beauty that cannot be conveyed in words, an aliveness and reality tinctured with poetic pathos which lift it to the realm of great art, greatly conceived and greatly presented." Calling Machinal "the most enthralling play of the year," Maxwell attributed the play's success to "three remarkable persons: Sophie Treadwell, Arthur Hopkins and Zita Johann."[3]

"From the sordid mess of a brutal murder the author, actors and producer of Machinal … have with great skill managed to retrieve a frail and sombre beauty of character," wrote theatre critic Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times. "Subdued, monotonous, episodic, occasionally eccentric in its style, Machinal is fraught with a beauty unfamiliar to the stage." Atkinson describes the play as "the tragedy of one who lacks strength; she is not adaptable; she submits. … Being the exposition of a character, stark and austere in style, Machinal makes no excuses for the tragedy it unfolds."[5]


Adapted for television by Irving Gaynor Neiman, Machinal was presented January 18, 1954, on NBC-TV's Robert Montgomery Presents. Reviewing the starring performance of Joan Lorring, Jack Gould of The New York Times wrote that "her interpretation of the mentally tortured young woman in Machinal, Sophie Treadwell's expressionistic and bitter poem for the theatre, must rank among the video season's finest accomplishments." The cast also included Malcolm Lee Beggs as the husband.[6]

An adaptation of Machinal aired August 14, 1960,[7] on ITV the United Kingdom in the ABC Armchair Theatre series. Joanna Dunham starred, with Donald Pleasence portraying the husband.[8]


Program cover for the 1993 Royal National Theatre production

Machinal was produced Off-Broadway at the Gate Theatre, opening in April 1960, with direction by Gene Frankel, and featuring Delores Sutton, Vincent Gardenia, and Gerald O'Loughlin.[9] In his review in The New York Times, Brooks Atkinson wrote "Gene Frankel has added modernistic details that visualize the inhumanity of the background... Ballou's cold settings, Lee Watson's macabre lighting complete the design of one of Off-Broadway's most vibrant performances."[10]

The play was produced Off-Broadway by the New York Shakespeare Festival at the Public Theatre, running from September 25, 1990 to November 25, 1990. Directed by Michael Greif, the cast featured Jodie Markell (Young Woman), John Seitz (Husband), and Marge Redmond (Mother). The production won three Obie Awards: for Performance (Jodie Markell), Direction, and Design (John Gromada).[11]

Machinal was revived by the Royal National Theatre in London in a production directed by Stephen Daldry.[12] It opened on 15 October 1993 with Fiona Shaw as the Young Woman, Ciarán Hinds as the Man, and John Woodvine as the Husband.[13][14] The scenic design, which included a large metal grid that moved into different positions for the play's different scenes, was by Ian MacNeil, costumes were by Clare Mitchell, lighting design was by Rick Fisher, with music by Stephen Warbeck.[12]

Machinal by the Boardmore Theatre, Cape Breton University, the court room
The condemned woman's cell in Machinal

A revival opened on Broadway in a Roundabout Theatre production at the American Airlines Theatre on January 16, 2014, directed by Lyndsey Turner, featuring Rebecca Hall, Michael Cumpsty, Suzanne Bertish and Morgan Spector.[15]

A new production opened at the Almeida Theatre in London on June 4, 2018, directed by Natalie Abrahami.[16]

A production of Machinal was presented at Muhlenberg College, Allentown, PA on September 27–30, 2018, directed by Lou Jacob, Baker Artist-in-Residence.[17]

A production, advised by the Tony-nominated lighting designer of the 2014 Broadway revival production, opened at Princeton University in January 2019.[18]

A production of Machinal was presented at the Bolton Theater at Kenyon College, Gambier, OH on February 1–2, 2019, directed by Anton Dudley and starring Delilah Draper, Teddy Fischer and Alec Ogihara.[19]

A production of Machinal was presented by the Richard Burton Theatre Company at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff in February 2019.

A production of Machinal was presented by the CBU Boardmore Theatre Company at the Boardmore Playhouse, Cape Breton University, in Cape Breton Regional Municipality, Nova Scotia, Canada in February 2019.[20][21]

A production of Machinal was presented by the College of Saint Rose Theatre Company at the College of Saint Rose, in Albany, New York from April 4 to 7 of 2019.

A production of Machinal was translated and adapted in Filipino ("Makinal") by thesis students in the University of the Philippines Diliman, Philippines. From April 12–14, 2019.


Machinal was included in Burns Mantle's The Best Plays of 1928–29.[22]

The Royal National Theatre production won three 1994 Laurence Olivier Awards, for Best Revival of a Play or Comedy, for Fiona Shaw as Best Actress and Stephen Daldry as Best Director of a Play. Ian MacNeil was nominated as Best Set Designer.[23]

The 2014 Broadway production received four 2014 Tony Award nominations: Best Scenic Design of a Play (Es Devlin), Best Costume Design of a Play (Michael Krass), Best Lighting Design of a Play (Jane Cox) and Best Sound Design of a Play (Matt Tierney).[24]


  1. ^ "Machinal". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2016-11-07.
  2. ^ Littell, Robert (October 1928). "Front and Inside Pages". Theatre Arts Monthly.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Maxwell, Perriton (November 1928). "The Editor Goes to the Play". Theatre Magazine. New York: Theatre Magazine Company. p. 46.
  4. ^ Treadwell (1993, viii).
  5. ^ Atkinson, J. Brooks (September 8, 1928). "The Play". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-11-08.
  6. ^ Gould, Jack (January 24, 1954). "Television Reviews; Joan Lorring in 'Machinal'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-11-08.
  7. ^ "ABC Armchair Mystery Theatre". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2016-11-08.
  8. ^ "Machinal". BFI Film & TV Database. British Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-11-08.
  9. ^ Kabatchnik, Amnon. "Machinal" Blood on the Stage, 1925-1950: Milestone Plays of Crime, Mystery, and Detection, Scarecrow Press, 2010, ISBN 0810869632, p. 217
  10. ^ Atkinson, Brooks. "Theatre. 'Machinal' Revived at Gate", The New York Times, p. 27, April 8, 1960
  11. ^ " 'Machinal' Listing", accessed December 23, 2013
  12. ^ a b From the programme to the production.
  13. ^ Treadwell (1993, v).
  14. ^ " 'Machinal' Listing and Script, Royal National Theatre" (pdf), accessed December 23, 2013
  15. ^ Gioia, Michael. "Suzanne Bertish, Michael Cumpsty, Morgan Spector Will Join Rebecca Hall in 'Machinal'; Complete Broadway Cast Announced" Archived 2013-12-25 at the Wayback Machine, October 22, 2013
  16. ^ "Machinal". Almeida Theatre. Retrieved 2018-05-15.
  17. ^ "On the Mainstage - Machinal". Muhlenberg College. Muhlenberg College Theatre and Dance. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  18. ^ "Machinal". Wallace Theater. Retrieved 2019-01-02.
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Machinal". Boardmore Playhouse. Cape Breton University. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  21. ^ Nicholls, Rod (12 February 2019). "Machinal's comeback story". Cape Breton Post (12 February 2019). SaltWire Network. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  22. ^ Mantle, Burns, ed. (1929). The Best Plays of 1928–29. New York: Dodd, Mead. OCLC 9695298.
  23. ^ "Olivier Winners, 1994" Archived 2013-12-24 at the Wayback Machine, accessed December 23, 2013
  24. ^ Gans, Andrew. "68th Annual Tony Awards Nominations Announced; 'Gentleman's Guide' Leads the Pack" Archived 2014-05-30 at the Wayback Machine, April 29, 2014


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