The Receptionist is a dark comedy with a secret

There is more to this office than meets the eye
Melissa Hesse

If you are a fan of absorbing theater that isn't afraid to poke into dark corners, The Receptionist by Dark & Stormy Productions is just what you're looking for. A talented quartet of actors brings it to life.

Adam Bock's play takes place in an average-looking office. In fact, the folks at Dark & Stormy were able to get the use of an empty office space on the fifth floor of the Traffic Zone Center for Visual Art building near downtown Minneapolis. The theater space has been carved out of the front area, with the already existing receptionist's desk as the focal point.

Here we find Beverly Wilkins (Sally Wingert), a character who should be familiar to anyone who has ever spent time in an office. Chipper, cheerful, and efficient, Beverly has her job and routine down pat. That doesn't mean she won't spend some time gossiping, but she's always quick to answer the phone with a pert "Northeast office!" when a call comes in.

The first part of the show plays out like a typical workplace comedy, especially in the banter between Beverly and Lorraine (Sara Marsh), a younger worker at the office who is as interested in talking about old boyfriends as she is in actually doing her work.

We don't begin to suspect anything sinister is afoot until we meet Martin (Bill McCallum), a visitor from the unnamed business's central office. He's certainly friendly, but there is also something unnerving about his behavior. This sense of unease is only intensified by Martin's annoyance that local boss Edward (Harry Waters Jr.) isn't at the office yet.

Edward arrives while Martin is out buying a paper, and the truth of what goes on at the office turns the comedy cold. Without giving away too many of the plot twists and turns, this particular company is in the business of collecting information, by whatever means necessary. Although Bock wrote the play several years ago, recent revelations about domestic spying give it an extra layer of immediacy.

These intelligence-gathering techniques take their toll, a truth that comes through in subtle ways throughout the play. Waters's character is a loose bundle of nerves from the start, knowing that his attempt to do the right thing (he decided that a "customer" didn't do anything wrong, though regulations mandate that this is not possible) may have doomed him. Marsh's idle boredom at her job is quickly replaced by a quiet intensity, as she understands what the changes at the top of the office may mean for the rest of them. That leaves Wingert, whose performance is absolutely arresting from beginning to end. Beverly has hidden her qualms and concerns behind an edifice of routine, friends, and an extensive teacup collection.

Bock channels the angry spirit of Harold Pinter throughout The Receptionist, and the cast — under the careful guidance of director Benjamin McGovern — lets the underlying message of the play come through in their actions instead of slogans. It's a play where small details, like a half-eaten pastry in an empty office, carry a huge weight.

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