We don't need to see a slide show of Bernard Madoff's eerily pristine offices in New York City to know that rampaging evil can lurk in the sleekest environments. And in The Receptionist, a mostly intriguing 75-minute play now being produced by Dobama Theatre, dastardly office-cubicle doings aren't revealed until almost the very end.
Up to that point, playwright Adam Bock has some fun with Beverly, the phone goalie at the "Northeast office" of an unidentified company. Bev kills time on the horn, clucking over her friend Cheryl Lynn's escapades with men, her grown daughter Janey and her teacup-collecting husband.
Beverly also chats with Lorraine, another employee who is tormented with her own man problems. Lorraine perks up and gets her flirt on when Mr. Dart from the central office shows up to speak with their boss, the absent Mr. Raymond. But once the boss shows up, the mood changes dramatically and we take a peek inside the belly of a particularly nasty beast — a cross between Blackwater and Dick Cheney's demented dreams.
Directed by Joel Hammer, the production touches most of the surprise-thriller bases but falls short of capturing the full, weird vibe that this office requires. Lissy Gulick exudes a brisk and efficient aura as Beverly, but doesn't take full advantage early on of all the humorous aspects of her character's mundane life. This makes the climax less startling when things turn ugly.
Tom Woodward is alternately charming and chilling as Mr. Dart, and Michael Regnier is sadly mystified as Mr. Raymond. However, Jennifer Klika's love-starved Lorraine is too broad by half.
The Receptionist is preceded by Eric Coble's skit H.R., a 15-minute amuse-bouche. Sharing the same set and cast as the play that follows, four office denizens respond in fear to the impending visit by (gasp!) the company's human-resources department.
The predictable overreactions conjured by Coble and directed by Joe Verciglio are lifted directly from Week One in Shecky's Comedy-Writing Workshop. And even Woodward's boyishly energetic turn as office cutup Chip can't save this little brain fart of a play.