The Receptionist -- Theater Review

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There are, of course, the people who do all those things. You know, those things that are going on right now while we try not to think about them. And then there are the support staffers who make their livings serving them faithfully, protecting them, ignoring the nature of the job because it's a job.

Adam Bock's play focuses on just such a person. We get to see exactly who she is thanks to Bock's beautifully specific writing, the exquisitely detailed direction of Bart DeLorenzo and the stellar work of Megan Mullally in the title role. Exactly what that office does is cleverly left up to our imaginations.

The play opens with a monologue by Mr. Raymond (Jeff Perry), who is speaking of hunting animals and finding the most humane way of killing them. The setting switches to an office, where Beverly the receptionist (Mullally) holds court. She and staffer Lorraine (Jennifer Finnigan) spend most of their time talking about romance, so we're blithely assuming that boyfriends and husbands are the hunted animals. And they are, but not in the way we expected. We're a long way into this 75-minute play when Mr. Raymond returns to drop a bombshell into the conversation.

Just as Beverly lives and breathes her job and fills it with urgency and value, Mullally does so with Beverly, living fully in the space and adding such appealing details as a thick New Jersey accent, the stiff walk of a woman who spends all day in an uncomfortable chair and the short haircut combed precisely into place and polished to a sheen every morning.

Perry takes a tightly wound turn as the boss whose task seems to have gone awry; is his character evidencing a bit of fear, or are we reading fear into his situation? Chris L. McKenna plays the visitor from the main office as so perfectly pleasant, so quickly menacing. Finnigan plays Lorraine as perkily wrapped up in her personal life; ah, but what does she do back in those never-seen offices?

DeLorenzo helps us digest the enigmatic script, even if he won't give us a visual hint in the wryly generic office space. Not that we could stomach watching as business is done. But this is a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of darkness.

Venue: Odyssey Theatre, West Los Angeles (Through Sept. 20)
Cast: Megan Mullally, Jeff Perry, Chris L. McKenna, Jennifer Finnigan
Playwright: Adam Bock
Director: Bart DeLorenzo
Lighting designer: Christopher Kuhl
Set designer: Chris Covics
Costume designer: Ann Closs-Farley