Treadwell, who had covered similar trials as a journalist, attended Snyder's media circus of a court proceeding as a civilian. Haunted by the "why" of the crime, she reimagined it in Machinal, whose protagonist, Young Woman, is driven to madness and murder by male control and the screeching mechanization of modern life. Obolensky takes Treadwell, Snyder, and Young Woman and puts them into a pressure cooker together, then sets the pot over the fire of Treadwell's obsessive imagination.
The meta-theatrical Not Enough Air is as much about the consuming, oft-debilitating artistic process as it is about media sensationalism and patriarchal constriction — though it does play out against a backdrop of journalistic intrusion and Treadwell's own unorthodox marriage to a sportswriter from whom she often lived apart. The drama also draws parallels between the "fits" from which Snyder was said to suffer and the "neurasthenia" with which the multiply hospitalized Treadwell was diagnosed. In a society whose key word for its distaff side was "submit," implies Obolensky, there is "not enough air" for either woman. Indeed, amplified exhalation and on-stage hyperventilation are among the effective Nora production's reiterations.
The show begins, however, not with a sigh but with the loud clanking shut of metal doors that is an earmark of David Remedios's aptly abrasive sound design. And it unfolds in the shadowy, file-cabinet-cluttered region of Treadwell's mind, where, in the keen, compassionate person of Anne Gottlieb, the writer is torn between marital pressures and the pull of creation represented by Snyder (Ruby Rose Fox's vulnerable fireplug of a flapper) and Young Woman, who's played by Mariana Bassham with a mix of playful seductiveness and badgering tyranny that would do any Muse proud.
Obolensky sets up a ferocious tug-of-war but remains indecisive about which way to jerk it. The Boston-based writer's play had its premiere last year courtesy of Chicago's TimeLine Theatre Company but has been in development for years, the emphasis shifting between Treadwell's preoccupation with Machinal and her relationship with patronizing-nice-guy spouse William "Mac" McGeehan. The current incarnation, despite an engagingly tender turn by Craig Mathers as Mac, argues for the almost Miracle Worker–worthy struggle between Treadwell and Young Woman as the former fights to give voice to the latter.
Rikers meets Rio in Cristina Todesco's creepy yet kitschy set design for The Island of Slaves (presented by Orfeo Group at the BCA Plaza through March 6). Newly configured as an arena, the playing space is part dungeon, part carnival site, strewn with puppets and oddly clad half-mannequins, with ominous metal chains and a colorful piñata drifting from the ceiling. What it really represents, of course, is a playing space — apt setting for French playwright Pierre Marivaux's 1725 study of reversal and role play, in which parallel pairs of aristos and servants get shipwrecked on an island occupied by runaway slaves and are forced to switch roles, the nobles made humbler by the experience, the menials brought to the discovery that, having themselves been walked on, they cannot (beyond a quick sneeze of revenge) derive satisfaction from treading on others.