This play was second of a series of seven plays which will serve as thesis productions for graduating theater arts students. "Machinal" was a play written by American playwright Sophie Treadwell and had its Broadway debut back in 1928. For this particular production, Treadwell's script had been translated into Filipino by Eljay Castro Deldoc. It will serve as the thesis of Theater 200 students: Nour Hooshmand (for direction), Rachel Jacob (for performance), and Steven Tansiongco (for video design), under the supervision of Prof. Dexter M. Santos.
Helen was a harassed secretary at work and an unappreciated daughter at home. Desperate to get out of her situation, she agreed to marry her wealthy boss, Mr. George Jimenez, despite being totally repulsed by his presence and his touch. After an unwanted baby and a steamy one-night-stand, Helen stood at a crossroads in her life, not knowing how to get out of the prison built around her.
At the beginning of the play, it was emphasized that this play was about this one woman (bravely played with mad wide-eyed fervor by Rachel Jacob), and she could actually be any woman. From there, the whole play was divided into eight episodes in the life of this woman, namely: Business, Home, Honeymoon, Maternal, Prohibited, Intimate, Domestic and the Law. I did not hear the name Helen mentioned until the final episode already. It was a powerful statement that this tragedy could happen to any woman.
In the first episode, we hear the cacophony at her workplace as her vicious fellow employees were all ganging up on her when they felt that she was the favorite of their boss (first of multiple roles played by Jack Yabut). The next scene with her mother (an ear-splitting Karen Romualdez) was a shouted exchange of words where each one was not actually listening to the other. Seeing her daily hell as set up in these two first scenes, we already feel the inner turmoil boiling inside this woman and clearly see why she was going out of her mind.
The Cast at their Curtain Call
We all saw and felt how dirty, disgusted and resistant she was during her honeymoon night with her new husband. Then later in stark contrast, we saw how calm, happy and relaxed she was when she was intimate with this other man Arturo (a very confident Kevin Vincent Pajara), whom she just met for the first time in a bistro. The shift of her facial expression and personality were so drastic, she felt like two different women. However, it was clear that we were still watching the same one woman.
There were excellent supporting turns by two other character actors, both of whom played multiple distinct characters. The first was shape-shifting Gino Ramirez, who was the ingratiating stenographer in the office scene, then a homosexual seducer in the bar scene, then a forceful prosecuting lawyer in the court scene. The second was big hefty Nico Dans, who was a hunched-over accountant in the office scene, then a boisterous boyfriend in the bar scene, then an indignant defense lawyer in the court scene.
Director Nour Hooshmand was very sure in her vision on how she wanted Helen's story told. The backdrop, ceiling and sides of the set designed by Marc Dalacat looked like slabs of cold copper. It felt like an inescapable metallic box in which our young woman was trapped. On these were placed multiple LCD screens where the video graphic designs of Steven Tansiongco also set the time period and the mood of the scenes. This claustrophobic set effectively created a stifling mechanical milieu that could overwhelm the weak of heart and constitution, like poor Helen.
Thesis candidates Nour Hooshmand, Rachel Jacob and Steven Tansiongco
take a bow with the cast
I was surprised to learn after the show that this play was written way back in the late 1920s, even before the Great Depression on Wall Street. These hellish situations that Helen experienced still exists now among the women of today. It is disturbing to realize that the story about this young woman is as current now as Sophie Treadwell wrote back then, as if no Women's Liberation Movement ever happened in between.
So, Treadwell's words from her very first scene were indeed prophetic. This IS a story about any woman, but maybe Treadwell never foresaw that this statement was going to be a timeless truth to this day, Or then again, maybe she did.
MAKINAL played for only 5 performances from April 12-14, 2019, 7 pm with 3 pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday. The shows were for free, but a bag was passed around after the show for donations since this was a students production. The venue was at the Teatro Hermogenes Ylagan in Pavilion 3 of Palma Hall. This was the first time I had been in this black box style theater, fashioned from one of the labs of the old Physics Pavilion as I knew it during my own days in UP Diliman.