REVIEW: In “The Receptionist,” Sally Wingert creates a wonderfully ordinary character caught in extraordinary circumstances.
Adam Bock’s “The Receptionist” is just a slip of a play — a well-observed character study loaded with a grim denouement that reminds us how fragile we are in this big, bad world.
Dark and Stormy Productions is staging Bock’s play in the abandoned fifth-floor quarters of Artspace in the Traffic Zone Building in Minneapolis. Artspace, for the curious, has moved downstairs and left behind a few desks, file cabinets, computers. This is an intimate and effective theatrical use of found space. Why recreate an office on stage when you have an office already sitting here?
Actor Sally Wingert occupies a small part of this room, playing a small person, Beverly, who seems perfectly content pursuing small talk and small matters in her life.
Beverly answers phones and runs the front desk for the North East Office. There’s no clue about what business the North East Office is in — only that it is a branch of the Central Office.
Beverly puts callers into the voice mail of co-workers who aren’t in — or don’t want to be bothered. In between, she scolds friends and a co-worker about their bad choices in relationships, guards her pen collection, frets that her husband has used the phone bill money to buy a collectible tea cup and makes arrangements for a birthday cake for the boss. She can’t wait to show her co-worker, Lorraine, the card she bought.
“Did you see the pony?” she asks, pointing to the front of the card. “It’s a pony with a pipe! People are crazy.”
Wingert’s is a beautifully and sharply wrought performance, overseen by director Ben McGovern. She slouches into her shuffling steps, chirps happily at one moment and abrades with an edgy voice the next; she starts, stops and redirects conversations with her eyes. She uses the knowledge she’s cadged through gossip as a dagger and revels in minutiae.
Bock’s sneaky play drifts along a lazy, enjoyable track until Martin Dart (Bill McCallum) stops by. He seems a charming guy from the Central Office. Martin is tickled by Beverly’s chitchat and after flirting with Sara Marsh’s Lorraine (ever the coquette; no wonder Lorraine is having man problems), he says happily that he needs to see the office boss, Mr. Raymond.
Ah yes, Mr. Raymond. Harry Waters Jr. wears resignation on his brow, a sense of distraction and a loss of purpose. When he confesses to Lorraine and Beverly that he didn’t follow the protocol for the “work” that these people do, he knows he’s going to have to answer for it.
To reveal the “work” would be to take the punch out of “The Receptionist.” Suffice to say — with apologies to Hannah Arendt — that there is evil lurking within our everyday banality. In a trice, Beverly’s small life is consumed by something large and unknown and frightening.
Bock’s play demands that we are drawn into Beverly’s world, and that we are enchanted by her silly nattering. We are. McGovern gets Wingert fully invested in this mousy, easily delighted everywoman in whom we see our own vulnerability.
Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299