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Vandamm and Machinal


Zita Johann and Clark Gable in Machinal. NYPL Image ID: psnypl_the_4747

Machinal is back on Broadway.  Sophie Treadwell’s best known play is enjoying a successful revival at the Roundabout Theater.  Although a journalist, Treadwell used elements of experimental playwriting to show the central character stuck on the machinery that limited the lives of 1920s women.  Her choices doom her.  Go to see it if you can.

Vandamm photographed the original 1928 production, as well as Treadwell herself.  We were pleased to welcome the Roundabout teaching artists to LPA and showed them the photographs of the original.  There are remarkably sexy images of Zita Johann with Clark Gable as her lover and principal bad choice.  But the image that for me represents Machinal as a major American play from the experimental '20s focuses on the set by Robert Edmond Jones.  I use “focus” on purpose.  What is—not wrong, but not usual about this picture?  It is a neutral space, one bed with windows, like a hotel room.  Jones ensured the focus would be on the bed by extending it. Instead of shortening the room with walls or a reduced lighting pool, he made the bed and windows overly large in relation to each other, the room and the actors. The intense white light on the bed expands it further. As usual, with her fascination for light, the Vandamm team was able to document the experimental designers' effects.


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