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A CurtainUp Review
The Receptionist

Terrible things happen when we're too trusting. — Beverly
Jayne Houdishell (Photo: Joan Marcus )
Jayne Houdyshell just gets better and better. In The Receptionist, her first starring role, she plays an endearingly funny character on the order of her show stealing role as Lisa Kron's mother in Well. But there's another side to the cheery receptionst she plays in this world premiere by Adam Bock, and it's heartstoppingly chilling. You see, Bock has taken his last play Thugs, also set in an office, and moved it into Rod Serling territory.

As with any mystery, there are clues scattered here there and everywhere to help you figure out what this is all about, but unlike a traditional mystery, don't expect Houdyshell's Beverly Wilkins to turn into a detective who does a recap of what you've seen as she ties everything into a neat conclusion. This is not a modern day Jane Marple story, but Jayne Houdyshell via Beverly Wilkins in the twilight zone.

Given the genre of Bock's first play at an uptown theater, I've probably already said more than I should without risking accusations of "Spoilsport." So, trust me when I say, pay close attention and by the time Bock winds things up after a mere seventy minutes, all the somewhat ambiguous remarks will make sense; that applies even to Robert Foxworth's opening remarks about fishing which seems to have wandered in from some other play.

Of course I won't be spoiling things if I add some more rave comments about Ms. Houdyshell's performance. Seated at her command post — set designer David Korin's amusingly over-furnished desk, complete with a coffee maker as well as the work-related accouterments. The desk dominates a file-filled office known only as "Northeast office" and Houdyshell deftly navigates incoming calls in between more personal conversations with daughter Janey, a friend named Cheryl Lynn and her husband Bob who's as enamored of teacup collecting as she is. Whether she's steering a caller to someone's voice mail or cleaning her computer screen she keeps you riveted to her every look and gesture. She is a priceless a comic character wrapped in her own little world and hardly someone who would utter warnings like "terrible things happen when we're too trusting." But watch for little warning signs that she's more than the sort of workplace drone in front of whom people can talk about serious matters as if she were deaf or not there.

Director Joe Mantello skillfully oversees the proceedings. Kendra Kassebaum who plays a love-starved, ditzy blonde named Lorraine Taylor with a panache to match Houdyshell. Also excellent are Robert Foxworth as Mr. Raymond, the head of the office who delivers that puzzling opening monologue and Josh Charles as the friendly, flirty Mr. Dart from the Central office.

While Mr. Bock has a knack for writing dialogue that is seemingly about nothing, enigma wrapped in what seems to be a go-nowhere play à la Seinfeld but is of course very much about something. As already stated, I'll leave it to you to figure out what that something is about and also to decide whether it's fiction or an all too real faction that, thanks to the stellar cast and well paced direction, is worth seeing.

Links to ther Adam Bock plays reviewed at Curtainup
The Thugs/Bock Five Flights
Typographer's Dream

Playwright: Adam Bock
Directed Manhattan Threatre Club, 131 W. 55th St. Stage 1 (212) 581-1212
World premiere by directed by Joe Mantello
Cast: Josh Charles (Mr. Dart), Robert Foxworth (Mr. Raymond),Jayne Houdyshell (Beverly Wilkins), Kendra Kassebaum (Lorraine Taylor).
Sets: David Korins
Costumes: Jane Greenwood
Lighting: Brian McDevitt
Sound: Darron L. West
From 10/12/07; opening 10/30/07. Closing 12/16/07--extended to 12/30/07.
Tuesday - Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.; Sunday at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $75.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on November 1, 2007

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