Friday, September 22, 2023

Review: Communication is Put on Display in Allswell’s Patchface

Who: Allswell Productions
What: Patchface
Length: 60 Minutes
Where: Streamed online
When: July 29 – August 1, 2021 streamed at 7pm nightly
Tickets: $15 for a single ticket; $27 for a household via Showtix4u

When Camille Intson initially wrote Patchface, the central subject was a telemarketer. A pandemic-era rewrite transported the production to 1969, with the titular character as a telephone operator instead. Like many productions that are emerging from the pandemic, Intson’s work explores loneliness, isolation, and the ways we search for human connection and love.

Produced by London’s Allswell Productions, Patchface finds a man (Jack Copland) and woman (Andrea Holstein) growing apart in their marriage after a devastating event. After interacting with the same telephone operator daily (Erin Sevigny) to speak to his wife from his office, the man begins to confide in the operator and impacts the relationships of the three of them forever.

Intson’s work as a playwright has developed since the 2019 Hamilton Fringe award-winning production We All Got Lost. In Patchface, she favours devices that prompt the audience to consciously engage with the movement and language within the script and to notice behavioural patterns and reflect on them. The challenge with this style is that it can be difficult to dig deep into the emotional satisfaction that the text can deliver. 

Allswell Productions does an excellent job of reinstating the thematic elements through their artistic team (particularly costuming, lighting, stage design and sound). For example, the set is divided into three separate scenes, which all co-exist alongside eachother; often at the same time. The telephone operator’s desk is the only one where any type of backdrop- just hanging wires- are visible, allowing the couple’s home and the man’s office to be situated against a black void. 

Allswell Productions Artistic Director Hailey Hill directs this production, and takes a distinct approach that removes any semblance of a fourth wall and connects the actors to the audience. Frequently, this involves two different takes on the same slice of information as characters share stories and trade lines to provide separate perspectives on the same story.

The result is that the spectators- at home watching this digital production- become the confidants of these interpersonal relationships, rather than just the telephone operator. Although the technology featured in Patchface is purposefully dated, the relevance of the question at hand in the age of social media is not- how much do we truly know about each other’s lives when we only get a glimpse, or when others choose the information we can absorb?

Perhaps in the future, stage actors will end up being revered as the ones who keep genuine memories alive through stories, while the rest of us outsource filtered versions to social media. The three featured players are believable as they find their respective escapes within each other and eventually, their own individual resolution and redemption. Copland has a particularly astonishing trajectory and is given incredible complexity and range to explore through his character; but the emotional growth never fully climaxes. He frequently plays opposite Holstein, whose nuanced approach goes well beyond the surface of the scenes. Sevigny gives her strongest performance in the moments where her character is unprepared for the complexities she is facing.

Since 1969, much has changed in the way of technology. Thanks to the rise and accessibility of the internet and social media, individuals have the ability to connect with others worldwide and create and share any persona of themselves that they see fit. Patchface provides valuable commentary on our modern media, the need to find connection, love and meaning. However, while there is a vulnerability and humanization to the performance, like much of social media- or an automated operator- the overall performance in the end doesn’t feel completely authentic.

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