NEW YORK (Reuters) - When actress Rebecca Hall first read “Machinal,” the 1920s play in which she will make her Broadway debut early next year, her reaction was so strong she felt her throat tightening.
Hall’s response, and the fact that it was being directed by Briton Lyndsey Turner, convinced the British actress she had to play the young murderess in the drama that hasn’t been staged on Broadway in 85 years.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a more physical response to a piece of writing,” said Hall, the star of films such as Woody Allen’s 2008 romance “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona” and this year’s Disney-Marvel blockbuster superhero sequel “Iron Man 3.”
“I think it is extraordinarily powerful. I think it was way ahead of its time,” she added of the play.
“Machinal,” a stylized drama that begins previews on December 20 and opens January 16. at the American Airlines theater, was written by American playwright and journalist Sophie Treadwell. It was inspired by the true story of Ruth Snyder, a New York woman who died in the electric chair in the state’s Sing Sing prison in January 1928 at the age of 33.
Treadwell covered the sensational trial of Snyder, accused of plotting the murder of her husband in March 1927 with her lover, that sparked a media frenzy later that year.
Hall, 31, plays a young woman who lives in a mechanized, male-dominated world, works in a boring job, marries her insensitive boss, and is trapped in a loveless marriage with a child. She rebels against convention and takes a young lover.
Briton Stephen Daldry directed actress Fiona Shaw in a revival of the play at London’s National Theatre in 1993.
“She is everywoman. She is an ordinary woman,” Hall said about the character, adding that there is an opposition in her to the society into which she was born.
“Everyone in the play is somehow subconsciously oppressive, including her to herself, and nobody really is to blame. There are no bad guys,” the actress said.
Actor Morgan Spector, of the HBO television series “Boardwalk Empire” and the 2010 film “The Last Airbender,” is the lover in “Machinal,” a role first played by a young Clark Gable when the play premiered on Broadway in September 1928.
“When I initially read the play I had this idea that here is this woman and nothing in her life goes well and finally she meets someone she can connect with,” Spector said about his character. “He is the first person who is human to her.”
A lack of human connection in an impersonal, rapidly changing society during a time of industrialization and mechanization is an underlining theme of the play.
British actor Michael Cumpsty, 53, said his character, the husband, loves his wife, doesn’t cheat on her or abandon her. But he also doesn’t see her.
“The woman knows she isn’t seen at all and that pressure, that dislocation and disassociation, builds and builds,” said the actor, who appeared on Broadway this year in “The Winslow Boy.”
“It is a play that shows a road map for how that pressure builds toward chaos and what might be possible to avert it, like a clearer sense of ourselves and a clearer sense of how we can connect with other people,” he added.
Although the play was written over 80 years ago, the actors believe there is nothing dated about “Machinal.”
“It’s a very contemporary piece. You read the play and it still works,” said Spector. “We’ve only gone further down this road.”
Editing by Mary Milliken and Piya Sinha-Roy