When the Pomona College Theatre Department’s upcoming production, Machinal, was first staged 95 years ago, a New York Times review presciently praised it as a play that “in a hundred years … should still be vital and vivid.”
Indeed, the themes of societal expectations and suppression of women in Machinal still resonate today, and audience members can expect to confront questions of why so much remains unchanged.
Written by Sophie Treadwell, a journalist and playwright, Machinal is based on a true story and follows Helen, a young woman who works as a typist in the 1920s and marries her boss to take care of herself and her unemployed mother. After having an unwanted baby with her husband, she falls into bed with a younger man. She then murders her husband to free herself from her marriage and subsequently goes to trial.
Abba Wilson ’23, the stage manager for the production, acknowledges the heaviness of the story and says Machinal is about “the lack of autonomy for women and speaks to the similarities and differences between the two eras and a struggle that seems to be universal all these years later.”
A theatre major and mathematics minor, Wilson is managing this production as part of her senior thesis project. She is thrilled to be working with Ellie Griffin PZ ’23, who is directing the play as part of her own senior thesis project.
“It’s been a dream to work with Ellie,” says Wilson. “We became friends last fall and have been thick as thieves since. We thought it would be a really supportive process to do our theses together.”
Dubbed “the third member” of their thesis projects because of their close collaboration, Kirby Kimball CMC ’25 plays the lead role in the play. Her lines appear on 75 pages of the 80-page play, and she is on stage for the entirety of the play.
“I had felt like I was sleepwalking for a long while before Machinal came into my life. This cast, the color story, the text—I never knew how much I had missed live theatre,” says Kimball.
“Her passion in her work really shows on stage,” says Wilson of Kimball. “She has also been one of the best parts of the process and willing to give her life over to us for two months.”
Kimball is part of a varied cast, ranging from students who have been acting since early high school and received acting training to seniors who wanted to perform for the first time during their last semester on campus.
“Everyone is really into it and giving us their best foot forward,” says Wilson.
Wilson hopes to work in professional theatre for the entirety of her career. As a mainstage production, Machinal has brought in professional designers with extensive experience in the industry, which has provided Wilson and others invaluable theatre training in the final production of the season.
Performances of Machinal will take place at Allen Theatre on Friday, April 7, at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 8, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 9, at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online or in person.