Machinal, a new Broadway revival of the 1928 classic by Sophie Treadwell that scandalized New York in the Roaring '20s, traces the ruin of Helen (Rebecca Hall, above), who falls so far from female convention that she ends up in the electric chair. The play, which opened at the American Airlines Theater on Thursday, begins with Helen feeling discombobulated by her trek to work. She can't stand crowds on the subway or her tiresome work routine. Her boss (Michael Cumpsty) fancies her and proposes in short order. Despite feeling repulsed by her boss, Helen goes through with the marriage and bears him a child. But convention doesn't suit her at all. Helen is soon awakened by a swarthy gent (Morgan Spector, above, in a role originated by none other than Clark Gable) she meets at bar, and quickly gives in to her carnal yearnings. Several scenes later, we see Helen on trial for her husband's murder.

Tension lurks deep beneath Hall's taut performance, which alludes to her inner turmoil at every turn. Hall delivers Helen's stream-of-consciousness monologues with an urgency that suggests the struggle within. The plot, a ripped-from-the-headlines treatment of the story of Ruth Synder, who was executed at Sing Sing, was not a obvious vehicle for a psychological set piece. But the Expressionist style of Eugene O'Neill was popular at moment, and Treadwell's impressionistic style delivers with haunting effect.

The elliptical play leaves many holes for the audience to fill in. The rotating period set by Es Devlin beautifully recalls the Jazz Age era. But ultimately the play rises on the shoulders of Hall's powerfully restrained Helen. Machinal ends up being a deep meditation on female desire in age when its expression was strictly forbidden. Act on it — and you may just end up in the chair.

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