Machinal, Loot and Outside Mullingar

Machinal is riveting and Outside Mullingar has its charms, but Loot is a bust!
February 06, 2014

Rebecca Hall and Morgan Spector in Machinal; Debra Messing in Outside Mullingar

Following their superb revival of Terence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy, the Roundabout has outdone itself with a riveting production of Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 drama, Machinal. Directed with precision by Lyndsey Turner in a lavish Art Deco-inspired production, Machinal stars Rebecca Hall in her Broadway debut as a “Young Woman” trapped by society in a loveless marriage whose solution to break free has disastrous consequences. With Suzanne Bertish as her overbearing mother, Michael Cumpsty as her suffocating husband and the incredibly sexy Morgan Spector as her lover, Hall manages to radiate the passion of a life unfulfilled under the cool exterior of a woman kept in her place. Despite the abrupt ending that leaves the audience wondering if the play is over, Machinal is a haunting piece of theater we’re not likely to see again for a long time.

As for the Red Bull Theater’s limp and misguided revival of Joe Orton’s dazzling black comedy, Loot, the less said the better. The individual elements are there: talented actors who could play these roles if directed properly and adequate (if uninspired) sets, costumes and lighting, etc. But the problem is one of style and tone, two issues director Jesse Berger has struggled with since starting the theater company 10 years ago.

Some critics have proclaimed Outside Mullingar to be John Patrick Shanley’s best work since Doubt, and perhaps that’s true. But considering how awful the last few Shanley offerings have been (Defiance, Romantic Poetry and Storefront Church, anyone?) that’s faint praise, indeed! Starring Debra Messing and Brian F. O’Byrne as two neighboring Irish landlords searching for middle-aged love, Outside Mullingar is sweet, adorable and harmless, even if the only Irish stereotype Shanley has forgotten to include is a leprechaun wearing a four-leaf clover and wielding a shillelagh. The cast, including the wonderful Peter Maloney as O’Byrne’s father and Dearbhla Molloy as Messing’s mother, is so terrific that you’ll forgive a lot, especially since there are some beautifully written scenes that play nicely on John Lee Beatty’s lovely sets. But the ending—just the last few minutes, in which O’Byrne’s character makes a startling revelation that comes out of nowhere and makes absolutely no sense—is hugely disappointing.  

Machinal plays through Mar 2 at the Roundabout (227 W 42nd St, RoundaboutTheatre.org). Loot plays through Feb 9 at the Lucille Lortel (121 Christopher St, RedBullTheater.com). Outside Mullingar plays through Mar 16 at MTC’s Samuel Friedman (261 W 47th St, ManhattanTheatreClub.com).

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