Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Receptionist

Photo/Joan Marcus

So as to not give anything away about The Receptionist to those who have not seen it, this is a perfect modernization of a famous old poem by Martin Niemoller. I had the opportunity to hear Adam Bock speak out about this, his latest play, at the Prelude '07 festival earlier this year, and he explained that it was written for the City Stage audience, and so the main character is a 50-something receptionist, happily married to a man who shares her mania for teacup collecting (she turns her nose at coffee mugs). Jayne Houdyshell plays this woman, Beverly, with the grace of a fallen diva, the center of attention even in an administrative role, and she relishes in collecting and dispensing gossip. In case Beverly doesn't strike a chord with you, she's also joined in the office by Lorraine Taylor (a very funny Kendra Kassebaum), the ditz of a flirt, and by Mr. Raymond (a somewhat vague Robert Foxworth), the professional elder of the company. The point is, these people could just as well be us, which makes their actual job, revealed toward the end of the play, somewhat more chilling, as well as what happens to their Northeast office, as carried on tidings from the easygoing Mr. Dart (Josh Charles, a bit stiffer than on Sports Night). Bock's writing is superb, as it channels the interruptive nature of the front desk into some very staccato conversations and nails the provocative silence that forces smaller and smaller talk. Furthermore, Joe Mantello's direction (again with the sliding sets from Blackbird), is a better fit for Bock's writing; his comic timing and delight in patter help the actors seem effortless on stage, and his theatricality (looming file cabinets, an eerie video cameras) matches with the unspoken threat of the mood-setting opening monologue.

[Also blogged by: Patrick]

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