A Highly Stylized ‘Machinal’

The 1928 Expressionist play about a stifled life in a mechanized society showcases student designers and actors in a drama that looks uncommon but remains relevant today.

Alexios Venieris ’15 (left), Rachel Comeau ’16 (center), and Ana Suarez ’16 (right) star in the production of Machinal at Rollins College. (Photo by Scott Cook) Alexios Venieris ’15 (left), Rachel Comeau ’16 (center), and Ana Suarez ’16 (right) star in the production of Machinal at Rollins College. (Photo by Scott Cook)

Alexandra Feliciano ’15 arrived on campus ready to make her name as a performer.

“I wanted to be the star,” she says. “I came in to conquer.”

But with the production of Machinal set to open on February 13, the theater student ventures into an area she considers just as exhilarating: very bold makeup designs that enhance the tension of the play.

Comeau examines her stage makeup in the mirror. (Photo by Scott Cook) Comeau examines her stage makeup in the mirror. (Photo by Scott Cook)

“I fell in love with the design part,” says Feliciano, who still enjoys acting and who never imagined such a turn in her academic path. “I love the art of the makeup. I get the same thrill transforming a face as I do when I am on stage making someone laugh.”

Encouraged by her instructor  Lisa Cody-Rapport, who saw a designer in the making, Feliciano drew inspiration for the look of the play’s characters from German expressionist paintings, which were popular when the play was written. Machinal centers on a female protagonist known only as a Young Woman in the 1920s who feels as if she were trapped in the grinding machinery of societal expectations—a feeling that leads to her take extreme actions.

Printed creative plans guide Alexandra Feliciano’s ’15 artistic process. (Photo by Scott Cook) Printed creative plans guide Alexandra Feliciano’s ’15 artistic process. (Photo by Scott Cook)

Feliciano used bold makeup on the people who surround the main character, played by Rachel Comeau ’16, because the Young Woman feels the world around her is distorted. However, she chose normal makeup for the heroine to emphasize the drama unfolding from her point of view.

Feliciano works to create the dramatic look for the stage. (Photo by Scott Cook) Feliciano works to create the dramatic look for the stage. (Photo by Scott Cook)

“I wanted it to seem like if you pressed pause on the play, it would look like the actors came straight out of a portrait,” Feliciano says of the drama written in 1928 by Sophie Treadwell. It was based, in part, on the famous murder case and trial of Ruth Snyder.

In an effort to create those striking, psychological effects, Feliciano pursued an innovative makeup design that includes deep purples, blues, and yellows, and makes use of watercolor crayons. The research in the design, the development of her technique, and the teaching of that to the actors is part of a capstone project that she is doing under the supervision of Cody-Rapport, the college’s artist-in-residence for costume and scenic design. She had encouraged Feliciano’s nascent designer skills and now she loves the results. “It’s very brave,” Cody-Rapport says. “It’s like a big piece of artwork that moves.”

Feliciano applies deep purple and pink to Suarez's face. (Photo by Scott Cook) Feliciano applies deep purple and pink to Suarez's face. (Photo by Scott Cook)

Two other students have contributed to the stage’s setting. Rebecca Kleinman ’15 designed the sets and Angelica Trombo ’15 designed the costumes.

Cody-Rapport said the chance to work with expressionistic styles posed an exciting challenge for all student designers. “It would be a plum show for any of the faculty to design.”

Indeed, the play’s expressionistic style poses a challenge even for a professional director. Although the overall look may seem strange, at first, to the average theatergoer, director David Charles believes the audience will connect to action on the stage.

Feliciano creates a dramatic look with purple, blue, and yellow for Venieris' character. (Photo by Scott Cook) Feliciano creates a dramatic look with purple, blue, and yellow for Venieris' character. (Photo by Scott Cook)

“Ultimately, however, the production still seeks to tell a story through characters, relationships, and emotional truth,” says Charles, who also chairs the Department of Theater Arts & Dance.

While Feliciano has not given up performing, she is grateful for the chance to build a portfolio that shows off her other accomplishments. Cody-Rapport said the department encourages students to develop a broad range of theatrical skills to increase job opportunities later on.

Comeau and Feliciano share a laugh back stage. (Photo by Scott Cook) Comeau and Feliciano share a laugh back stage. (Photo by Scott Cook)

“There is a lot of competition in acting,” she says. “A design student can do a lot of productions and do a lot of shows.” Moreover, being part of a production company may offer a chance to perform.

As for now, Feliciano is excited by the way this production is coming together. “It’s breath-taking. It will keep you on the edge of your seat.”

Director Charles said the play should provide a memorable experience for viewers. “There is light, laughter, and love amidst the darker hues of the central woman’s journey—defining features of the human experience to which we can all relate. In many ways, the stylized nature of the piece makes many aspects of this production feel more real and raw.”