Machinal, Loot, and Outside Mullingar

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

Machinal   (4 stars)
Loot   (1 ½ stars)
Outside Mullingar   (3 stars)

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 industrial precision by Lyndsey Turner in a lavishly appointed Art Deco inspired production, Rebecca Hall makes a luminous 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, which leaves the audience wondering if the play is over (and not knowing when to applaud), Machinal is a disturbing and haunting piece of theatre we’re not likely to see again for a long, 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 theatre company ten 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.  That it doesn’t completely derail what’s come before it is a testament to charisma and likeability of Messing and O’Byrne.

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

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