“Let’s give this another try….”
The Receptionist at Water Tower Theatre delivers a mind-bending paranoia punch, and I don’t mean the saccharine kind served from a crystal bowl. It’s a wallop you don’t see coming. This one act play gives the idea of “being present and accountable” startling new meaning.
During the 2007-2008 New York theatrical season, Adam Bock’s dark comedy with savage underlying social commentary was produced Off Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club. “I was the temp receptionist at a temp office. Then I got a job as a receptionist at a design firm in San Francisco and worked there for three years. I discovered I have a facility for it. Most people can’t do it….
The Receptionist is) about how people work, and how your work impacts you.” But there’s more.
This one clever hour jolt opens, innocently enough, on a middle management office boss, Mr. Raymond, (Randy Pearlman) sitting downstage center in a chair under an intense light, delivering a monologue to unknown persons about hunting rabbits and the finer points of fly-fishing. Pretty jolly fellow, pretty innocuous monologue. Except there is something a trifle unsettling about him; several lines seem out of context, like his conclusion. “Let’s give this another try….”
The scene immediately widens to reveal a pleasant, generic blah office with blah wall art and blah office music (exquisitely executed by Clare Floyd Devries). The office receptionist, Beverly, (Nancy Sherrard) captures audience attention and never lets go. She launches into a non-stop rapid-fire mixed monologue conversation with multiple incoming phone calls and several in person arrivals. Director Marianne Galloway has fine-tuned this performance to thrum like a Stradivarius violin. Sherrard hits every beat, phrase and chord, from the tilt of an eyebrow to the motherly pause with an anxious phone-caller to the sympathetic ear for an officemate in romantic distress, like a first chair violinist. When does she breathe? Her portrayal is an unforgettable triumph, full of humor, pathos, diffidence and gossipmonger all at one time. Playwright Bock should see this keen realization. “I wanted to write about somebody who had to manage a whole bunch of different kinds of language,” he says. “She has to talk one way to someone she doesn’t know, another way to someone she knows but doesn’t like, another way to a friendly person, another way to someone walking in. I thought it would be great to watch an actress have to quickly shift between all those different languages.”
Enter Beverly’s office mate Lorraine, ever late, same lame excuse, always blubbering about her narcissistic boyfriend and her codependent inability to shed him. Jennifer Pasion brings a genuine quality to this role, even with its farcical behavior and laugh lines. Every office has a ditsy gal like Lorraine. Shortly after, “main office” three-piece suit guy Martin arrives for an appointment with Mr. Raymond but finds himself drawn into a silly flirtation with Lorraine. Robert McCollum’s smooth style and wholesome good looks present a predictable up and comer’s demeanor. Warm smile, polite, charming. Yet, there’s something disturbing about him, intangible, lurking, hard to shake off.
That’s all I’m saying. Other than The Receptionist is the tightest script on the boards, with some of the crispest ensemble acting and well-defined direction in Dallas today. Coming full circle, at the play’s conclusion, the sense and context of Mr. Raymond’s opening monologue hit with a thud, considering Pearlman’s deceivingly innocent delivery. Adam Bock says he wrote this one-act “in response to the politics of the time, 2006/2007”. Artistically speaking, it whisks the audience into a unexpected twilight zone. “Let’s give this another try”, shall we?
Water Tower Theatre’s The Receptionist runs through June 21, 2009 in the Studio Theatre at the Addison Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Road in Addison, Texas.
Performance times are Thursdays at 7:30 PM, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM, and Sundays at 2:00 PM. Tickets are $20.
WTT Box Office: 972.450.6232 or online at http://www.watertowertheatre.org.
Quotes from Theatre Development Fund’s “Live NY Performances” page