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A CurtainUp London Review
by Neil Dowden
Although, like all their previous plays, Switch Triptych is written (and directed) by co-founder Adriano Shaplin and again mixes absurd comedy with political satire, this is the Riot Group's first period piece. Set in a New York City telephone exchange in 1919, it focuses on three female switchboard operators and their two male managers as automation threatens to make them redundant.
The "Queen Bee" Lucille (Stephanie Viola), a first-generation Italian immigrant who relishes her power to connect or disconnect callers and who prioritizes businesses who bribe her, embodies an individualist attitude that clashes not only with increasingly mechanized society but also with the organized labour that the new girl, English trade unionist June (Cassandra Friend), claims is their only hope.
The scenario has plenty of dramatic potential, as it sets up conflicts between human and machine, the individual and the collective, corporate capitalism and worker power, as well as gender and ethnic tensions. But Shaplin's self-conscious and over-wrought language, though often punchy and sometimes witty, ultimately alienates us rather than draws us in. For a play about the dehumanizing effects of technological and market-driven forces, it's frustratingly difficult to sympathize with any of the protagonists, who are more mouthpieces than flesh-and-blood characters.
Stephanie Viola's inebriated Lucille is a striking presence to start with, as she rants forth between swigs from various bottles, but her verbosity soon becomes monotonous as her stylized delivery is all on one note. The transformation of Cassandra Friend's June from demure outsider to rebellious socialist is not very convincing, while Sarah Sanford makes little impact as the third member of the triptych, the passive Philippa. When Paul Schnabel's mild-mannered Truman clashes - literally - with Drew Friedman's ambitious Andrew, it is one of the few moments of genuine interaction on stage in a play that overall fails to connect.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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