The Receptionist
Manbites Dog Theater
Through Feb. 28

In Franz Kafka’s The Trial, the victim of anonymous torment was a small-time bank manager. In Manbites Dog Theater’s production of Adam Bock’s The Receptionist, times have evolved enough that even the lowliest of underlings are subject to persecution. An increasingly dark comedy that combines the banality of evil with the banality of office life, The Receptionist is a nifty little mood piece that goes a bit slowly in its first part, but gradually builds to a chilling climax.

Manbites Dog veteran Marcia Edmundson stars as Beverly, the receptionist at the “Northeast office” of a enigmatic corporation. Beverly’s inane existence involves putting people through to voice mail and engaging in small talk, either on the phone or with office-mate Lorraine (Katja Hill).

On the day that occupies most of the play, Beverly’s routine is disrupted by the odd absence of her boss, Mr. Raymond (a very good Carl Martin), just as an envoy from the “central office,” Martin Dart (Derrick Ivey), shows up looking for him. More small talk ensues, which becomes somewhat bigger talk after Dart leaves and Raymond returns. It seems that Beverly has been in willful denial about what her company does, and Raymond has had a crisis of conscience.

Needless to say, things aren’t going to end well.

The Receptionist takes a while to get going, and it’s at its best in the moments when the dark comedy and the deadpan comedy merge: It’s a hilarious, unnerving experience to hear certain things discussed in the same manner that one might talk about a jammed copier.

Edmundson is excellent as Beverly, as is Martin as the broken Mr. Raymond, while Hill has a nicely neurotic presence as Lorraine. Ivey cuts a demonic figure as Dart (with his suit and slicked-back hair, he resembles the comedian Bob Odenkirk), and he also deserves praise for his scenic design of a convincingly bland office environment. The only two weaknesses in this show are the slowly paced first half and the use of Hitchcockian music during the scene breaks (it’s a little too histrionic for such a low-key play).

The Receptionist cuts a convincing portrait of how a soul-killing job might eventually kill you. Still, it does seem like kind of a sweet gig if you get paid by the hour. We hear there might be openings at the Northeast office.