Theater Info for the Washington DC region

American Century Theater Treadwell: Bright and Dark

By • Jun 4th, 2010 • Category: Reviews
Treadwell: Bright and Dark
American Century Theater
Theater on the Run, Arlington, VA
Through June 19th
Reviewed May 28, 2010

This is a play written by Allyson Currin about Sophie Treadwell, a female artist who, it appears, has been all but forgotten. This one woman show played by Melissa Flaim tells the audience about Sophie Treadwell. But from the start, unless you know all about this all but forgotten artist, you may find yourself asking yourself questions about who this person is. It’s not until the audience hears about her problems with the legend John Barrymore attempting to steal her play about Edgar Allen Poe, that you get a sense of this being a true story. All in all, I didn’t find this play all that intriguing. Yes, it was very hard for a woman to make in the professional fields of journalism and play writing, but Sophie Treadwell stuck to her guns for her own notoriety instead of for any statement she may have been trying to make.

You may find yourself asking for the meaning of this play. Is Allyson Currin trying to tell us about Sophie’s life or the problems she had with her father. Referencing the last line of the play may make one think or say, “Huh? What about her father? We hear a lot about her mother throughout, but not enough about her dad to warrant the final line.”

Melissa Flaim does a very good job with this material and it seems with many potholes along the way. My comments are mostly about some of Stephen Jarrett’s direction. Too many times we feel robbed of Flaim’s notable acting skills by a ninety degree turn either left or right as she created other characters to speak to. Some of her characterizations were brilliant and yet seemed to lack the total focus of the audience she continually addresses. Flaim’s command of the manic nature of her characters neurosis is spot on, yet the build to those moments were taken down to a crouching ball with her hands blocking the full view of her face. She moves about her self imposed cell like set with ease and a sense being totally at ease with her surroundings. One must applaud any actor who takes on an hour and a half of dialogue and never misses a beat. She appeared to have a mammoth job with little help from the story or direction.

The set was very cool. A collaborative effort by Ryan Wineinger and Paola Rodriguez. Lines holding up lines of letters, dialogue and scripts gave a neat look and feel to the story being told. The stripping of the set at the end gave a reflective note of Sophie’s life being stripped to nothing. The costume design by Rip Claassen was acceptable for the time period. Loved the shoes but they made me look at them too much.

Notes From the Arttsic Director

Machinal, so bold, assured, original, and disturbing, is simultaneously a landmark in the development of American theater and a reminder that there is so often no justice in the arts. It was the most remarkable work of a most remarkable woman, Sophie Treadwell, who managed to excel as a journalist and playwright long before women could look forward to anything but ridicule and bias in those fields. Treadwell: Bright and Dark gives Sophie a chance to enlighten us about a life-her life-that we should all know better. Her struggles were the struggles of women, artists, rebels, and trailblazers throughout history.

Treadwell talked Mexican bandit Ponch Villa into a sensational interview that her male competitors would have killed for and sued stage legend John Barrymore when he tried to steal her play about Edgar Allen Poe. You didn’t mess with Sophie Treadwell. She stubbornly refused to write her name under a male pseudonym, as her mentors and admirers urged, and paid the price. Most of her plays were mounted in a haze of battles with producers and directors who wanted to tone down Treadwell’s stylistic experiments and subversive themes. She was handicapped by small budgets and faint-hearted backers, but soldiered on, bringing about a third of her forty plays to Broadway, writing novels, and always peaking her mind. She ended her life discouraged, if not defeated, and, in a final act of self-sabotage, entrusted her plays to the Archdiocese of Tucson, where they were certain to be buried and neglected.

And, sure enough, Sophie Treadwell was forgotten. Until Machinal was recommended to me ten years ago, I had never heard of her. When I read the play, I was amazed: Could such a brilliant work really be the only accomplishment of this woman? The answer made itself apparent a few seasons later when TACT performed Treadwell’s short play, The Eye of the Beholder, an evening of works by women playwrights, Drama Under the Influence. Obviously, this was a versatile and important figure-a feminist, a ground-breaker, an an American original.

The American Century Theater’s mission of recovering great 20th century plays that risk being lost to cultural amnesia is supplemented by the Robert M. McElwaine American Reflections Program, which applies the same goal to important 20th century figures and events, using new works to do the job. Sophie Treadwell is a perfect Reflections subject: now all that was needed was a play about her. Luckily for the theater, Reflections, and especially Sophie, renowned area playwright Allyson Currin accepted the challenging task of creating a one-actor show about her, without the benefit of a single full biography. And luckily for Ally, us, and you, and again, Sophie, acclaimed actress Melissa Flaim agreed to bring her to life.

We have seen many times in recent years how vivid depictions of historical figures in novels, movies, or plays can rescue them from obscurity. Today, Colonel Joshua Chamberlain is widely regarded as one of the great heroes of the Civil War, yet before his prominent role in The Killer Angels and Jeff Daniels’ memorable portrayal of him in Gettysburg, the novel’s film adaptation, he was virtually unknown outside his home state of Maine. Treadwell: Bright and Dark aspires to do the same for Sophie Treadwell-to take her out of the shadows and place her in the historical, theatrical, and cultural spotlight she deserves.

For there is justice in the arts. Sometimes it just arrives late.

-Jack Marshall, Artistic Director


  • Sophie Treadwell: Melissa Flaim


  • Producing Director: Sherri L. Perper
  • Director: Stephen Jarrett
  • Stage Manager: David Olmsted
  • Scenic Design: Ryan Wineinger
  • Lighting Design: Paola Rodriguez
  • Technical Director/Master Carpenter: Anndi Daleske
  • Sound Design: Ed Moser
  • Costume Design: Rip Claassen
  • Properties Design: Anndi Daleske
  • Sound Board Operator: Darlene Richardson
  • Dramaturge: Erin Shannahan
  • Program Design and Cover Art: Michael Sherman
  • Production Photography: Dennis Deloria
  • Archivist: Kim-Scott Miller

Disclaimer: American Century Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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has been involved in theatre for over 40 years in the local Washington DC Metro area as well as NYC and London England. Mark has performed at the Dramatist Guild Theatre on Broadway, at The Dorothy Strelsin Theatre Off-Broadway. His credits include work in many local theatres as well: The Folger Theatre Group, Arena Stage, New Playwrights Theatre, 7th Street Players, The Keegan Theatre, The American Century Theatre, The Journeyman Theatre, ASTA Theatre, The Hayloft Dinner Theatre (Associate Producer), The Lazy Susan Theatre, Discovery Channels, "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" (Frankenstein) with Donald Sutherland. London, England credits include work at: The Duke of York Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre, The Questors Theatre, The British Embassy Players. Mark is a graduate of The Drama Studio, London, England. Mark is also a narrator of audio books for Gildan Audio: “True North”, by Bill George; “Never Give Up”, by Tedy Bruschi and “Five Minds for the Future”, by Howard Gardner among them. Mark currently teaches Advanced Acting at The Little Theatre of Alexandria and still performs locally in many theatres.

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