The Receptionist -- Too Late!

We finally got a chance to see “The Receptionist” at Coho on Thursday night. Had I attended earlier in the run, I would have been touting this show like crazy. Since the production closes this weekend, and is reportedly sold out, I’ll just say, “Too bad if you missed it!” Full disclosure: I’m biased since I have friends and colleagues associated with the show. (But who among Culture Shock readers doesn’t)?

Rose Riordan’s direction and design are impeccable, demonstrating an astonishing attention to detail in conjuring the daily, drabness of the office place--from a burbling coffee maker to a pathetic, shriveled house plant. Sharonlee McLean’s portrayal of Beverly, the receptionist of the title, is perfectly rendered with 80 minutes of nuanced stage business, gestures and vocal inflections that are thoroughly engaging, belying the fact that nothing of import is really happening for much of the first half of the play. Like many Portland theater fans, I’ve admired every role Sharonlee has played since she first appeared in “All in the Timing” for Portland Rep under Dennis Bigelow’s direction in the 1994-95 season.

Laura Faye Smith plays Lorraine with verve, conveying a professional woman whose life is (mixing metaphors here) a train wreck dancing on the razor’s edge of a meltdown in a pinball factory made out of funhouse mirrors. Laura deftly moves from coquette to basketcase, showing a true knack for physical comedy and fearlessness in every choice she makes. Indelibly etched in my memory bank of theater moments will be the image of Laura stuffing her cheeks, chipmunk-like, with wad upon wad of salt water taffy as she delivers a passionate, mascara-smeared, drooling tirade. Classy.

Gary Norman is excellent as the beaten-down shlub, Mr. Raymond, whose heart just isn’t in the dirty business at hand any more, and Chris Murray is all innocent, young charmer as the enigmatic Mr. Dart ...until he isn’t.

Playwright Adam Bock’s script accurately captures the day-to-day, mundane dialogue of the corporate office. My quibble with the play is that I liked it best when it was exposing the quotidian in precise detail more than when it brought out the message hammer. My complaint about Bock’s “The Thugs” (which PCS produced last year with much of the same artistic team) was that the lurking threat was too subtle, making the play more of an amusing sit-com about the life of temps than the allegory I think he meant it to be. With “The Receptionist,” I thought Bock overadjusted. I wanted the menace to be sneakier – more Harold Pinter and less Rod Serling. (Other critics have made the apt comparison of “The Receptionist” to an episode of “The Twilight Zone”). Still, even though the play delivers chilling ideas with a cudgel, its message is certainly thought-provoking and timely, and I look forward to whatever Mr. Bock comes up with next.

Drammy nods for production, direction and/or acting? Magic 8-Ball says, "Most Certainly!"


Heather Petersen said...

I loved this show as well! Glad to see more bloggers on board! Surely we'll all be watching for more Adam Bock plays in the future. And Rose Riordan is directing How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found opening at the end of January at Portland Center Stage.

MightyToyCannon said...

Thanks for commenting Heather. I too look forward to Rose's direction of "How to Disappear Completely..." I'll be keeping an eye on your blog too!