Adam Bock'ês play The Receptionist is a quirky piece, as if Harold Pinter had written an episode of the television show "The Office" before he expired. Unlike Pinter, or Tom Stoppard or Sam Shepard or other dramatists who dabble in unexplained menace, Bock doesn'êt fuse banality with evil; instead he places them side by side and creates a dislocative experience for the audience. The Receptionist sells well, perhaps because its broad comedy is more memorable than its halting political satire.
The play premiered at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2007 and first showed in Portland last year at CoHo Productions. It has been remounted in the black box at Portland Center Stage'ês Gerding Theater at the Armory, where it shows through March 21st.
In this production, Sharonlee McLean — last seen at PCS as Mrs. Cratchit — makes a convincing receptionist for the vaguely identified 'êNortheast Office.'ê She'ês swaddled in accoutrements and habits: the jealously guarded pens, the Kleenex box, making coffee, changing out of her tennis shoes. The actress flirts with caricature but retains her emotional credibility, and she never seems to mock the character she is playing. Laura Faye Smith as Lorraine also delivers a strong performance: She has the true comedian'ês willingness to make herself ugly or ridiculous, which is far more challenging than playing yet another ingenue.
Chris Harder as the visitor from the Central Office displays an alarming, closed-mouth rictus smile; Robert M. Thomas is more endearing than dynamic. The set is very well conceived, simple but complete; the sightlines are good all around (except for an errant jar of candies which blocks a couple of seats) despite the extreme thrust of the stage.
The Portland Armory, a handsome 1891 building, was converted into a home for Portland Center Stage in 2006. Just a block from Powell'ês Books in the midst of the vibrant Pearl District, the building has been named for Bob Gerding the developer who transformed the Pearl from an industrial miasma into a gelato-and-retail heaven. Besides its main-floor cafÃ©, the Armory houses a 599-seat mainstage and the 200-seat basement black box in which The Receptionist has been mounted.
This was the first performing arts venue to receive LEED Platinum certification — a green-building designation granted to only 30 other Oregon buildings and homes. The Armory is always worth a visit and The Receptionist is as good an excuse as any to get you there. What'ês more, out-of-town visitors who stay at local hotels can get two-for-one tickets; look into the offer here.