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Theatre Review (LA): The Receptionist by Adam Bock at the Odyssey Theatre

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If you go to the Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles on any given day, you are usually treated to an array of choices, from a classic, a Brecht, an experimental piece, or some small gem. One such small gem is The Receptionist by Adam Bock, starring Megan Mullally.

As a play it's more like an episode of Twilight Zone than a full-fledged theatre piece. The Receptionist is intriguing nonetheless, especially because it gives us the chance to see Megan Mullally in a decidedly different role than her famous role as Karen in the hit television show Will and Grace. In Will and Grace she was a booze-soaked pill-popping extrovert with insatiable appetites and some crazy friends. In The Receptionist she plays a meticulous, orderly receptionist at mysterious firm who is eventually caught up in an unnamed terror.

You could see The Receptionist and leave asking yourself, "What was that all about?" But that mystery lies at the very heart of the message of the play. We start off in an innocuous office with typical sitcom-like goings on. We meet Beverly Wilkins (Mullally), who keep things humming and on track, always making sure everything and everyone is present and accounted for. She trades dating banter with a blousy blonde office worker, Lorraine Taylor (Jennifer Finnigan), and all seems to be normal until a guy from the "Main Office" arrives, Martin Dart (Chris L. McKenna).

Tension begins to build, at first comically, as Dart and Taylor flirt, much to Beverly’s disapproval. But when the boss, Edward Raymond (Jeff Perry), arrives, we find out that he has been traumatized by a business-related event: he messed up and didn’t carry out explicit orders to torture and kill a client. It seems Dart is there to collect him, and eventually the whole office, to bring them "downtown" for interrogation. What do they do in that office and why does no one ever talk about it?

What is clear is that it involves torture, murder, and secrecy. And – ah ha! – it was written during the later days of the Bush Administration when such things were going on under our very noses. Are we culpable, the play seems to ask? The cast is outstanding, Megan Mullally in particular. She is a study in carrying out simple but telling stage business, constantly arranging and rearranging her desk and forever making sure everything is clean and sanitary. She is also very funny, until she too becomes a victim of the ever-increasing darkness that descends on the play. Director Bart Lorenzo has done a masterful job in unfolding first the comedy and then the underlying terror of the piece.

The Receptionist plays at the Odyssey Theatre until November 21st.

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