CSU Theatre presents ‘Machinal’ debut


Collegian | Falyn Sebastian

Sophia Masia, Staff Reporter

The Colorado State University School of Music, Theatre and Dance is putting on “Machinal,” a play by Sophie Treadwell, April 21-23 and 27-30 at the University Center for the Arts.

Sophie Treadwell’s “Machinal” is a fascinating and thought-provoking exploration of the themes of gender, society and power. 


“I remember reading ‘Machinal’ in college and loving it,” said Director Debbie Swann, senior instructor of theatre and interdisciplinary liberal arts. “Directing it has been on my bucket list for a while. This play is a beast and so difficult but incredibly rewarding as it is all coming together.” 

CSU Theatre’s mission statement aims to create art that speaks truth to power and teaches audiences through creative, collaborative storytelling, much like “Machinal” did in 1928 when it was first written.

“I hope audiences are taken aback at how themes presented 100 years ago still resonate today. Most importantly, I hope they are inspired to do something about it.” -Debbie Swann, director of “Machinal” and senior instructor of theatre and interdisciplinary liberal arts

The story follows the protagonist, Helen, who feels trapped by the expectations placed on her as a wife, mother and worker. At her wits’ end with the pressure society is putting on her, Helen plots to murder her husband.

“Machinal” is based on the true story of Ruth Snyder, the first woman to be executed via electric chair in the state of New York. 

“When it happened, the media swooped in and made it a macabre sensation,” Swann said. “Our news media still does this 100 years later. Sophie Treadwell, on the other hand, wrote this play (inspired by Snyder) as a way to explore why a woman would have committed a heinous murder in a ‘progressive society.’ The play in no way condones Snyder’s actions, but it does attempt to understand why a woman would be driven to such extremes.”

This expressionistic piece dives into what it feels like to be a woman in a patriarchal society that demands she play along with rules and norms she had no hand in writing. 

In addition to its themes, “Machinal” is also notable for its innovative use of expressionistic techniques. The play is divided into nine episodes, each one exploring a different aspect of Helen’s life. The use of episodic structure along with repetition mirrors the monotony and rigidity of Helen’s life. 

Additionally, the play features a chorus of characters who comment on the action and offer a broader perspective on the themes of the play. These techniques not only serve to enhance the play’s topics but also make for a powerful and engaging theatrical experience.

“It is one of the most ambitious shows in our season, requiring students to dive into an avant-garde style from performance to design,” Swann said. 


Through its exploration of gender, power and society with innovative theatrical techniques, the production is sure to bring Treadwell’s powerful play to life in a way that is both engaging and meaningful.

“I hope this play sparks conversation, whether it be about the innovative style and modes of storytelling or the political and cultural themes presented,” Swan said. “I hope audiences are taken aback at how themes presented 100 years ago still resonate today. Most importantly, I hope they are inspired to do something about it.” 

Overall, this production of “Machinal” by CSU Theatre seems to be an impressive piece of theater you won’t want to miss. 

“Machinal” opens April 21 and continues until April 30. There will also be a livestream of the show Saturday, April 29. Get your tickets now on the CSU Theatre website

Reach Sophia Masia at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @sophie_masia.