'The Receptionist' illuminates the banality of evil


BRATTLEBORO — Despite its bland title and comfortable setting, "The Receptionist," is a terrifying play. Like "The Handmaids Tale," it depicts the frightening ease with which we humans inhabit sociopathic institutions. The darkness in this comedy/drama sneaks up on the audience but when it strikes, it is with tremendous impact.

Playwright Adam Bock carefully establishes the small world of cheerfully trite receptionist Beverly Wilkins. Veteran local performer Adrienne Major plays this role brilliantly with her warm contral to voice, broad smile and endearing tics. She routes calls, greets visitors and savors office gossip. For anyone who has spent time in an American office, Beverly's refrains of "She's not at her desk," and "Let me put you into his voicemail," are lullingly familiar.

We remain in predictable comedic territory when the hyper-efficient schmoozer Mr. Dart (Andrew LaPenta) arrives from the Central Office. He needs to see the beloved but mostly absent manager of the Northeast Office, Mr. Raymond. Responding to a wink from lonely junior colleague Lorraine Taylor, Dart flirts a little too aggressively — the first hint of trouble.

As Lorraine, Gaia Posner portrays a ditzy denizen of the local dating scene. She and Beverly chew over every detail of their unexciting lives — Lorraine's narcissistic ex, the not-so-elgible man she met last night at the club and the problem of Beverly's daughter eating paste at school.

As the first act proceeds, one occasionally wonders what this company's product or service is as it's never referred to by employees, callers or visitors. Only when Mr Raymond suffers a mental breakdown after an unsuccessful session with "a client," do we get a hint of what the awful functions of the Northeast Office and Central Office may be.

Andrew LaPenta capably depicts the ambitious rising executive who deftly manipulates people, sharing just enough of his personal life to seem like a regular guy. His Mr. Dart exists in a moral vacuum where the end always justifies the means.

Beverly's unquestioning support for what she regards as the firm's important work recalls the so-called Nuremberg defense in which Holocaust perpetrators claimed that they were "just following orders."

Director William Wieliczca was struck by the play's unexpected power when he viewed it five years ago on Cape Cod. "I have been haunted by its social commentary and by its current relevance, so when I had the chance to direct it, there was no way I could miss the opportunity."

Local theatregoers are the beneficiaries of Wieliczca's choice and the skill with which he and his cast bring this disturbing yet thought-provoking work to life.

"The Receptionist" continues at The Hooker-Dunham Theater this Friday and Saturday, at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, at 3 p.m. General admission $15, students and seniors $13. For reservations, call 802-258-1344 or by email at vtcreservations@gmail.com.


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