Sunday, Sept. 27, 2009

Scattered Thoughts About Windfall's Receptionist

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The Lights Rise On Mark Bucher.

Bucher’s playing the role of Edward Raymond. He’s talking to someone we can’t see. He's pointed straight at the audience. There’s a camera next to him on a tripod. It’s difficult to tell what’s going on. He’s talking about fly fishing. Judging from what is revealed over the course of the rest of the play, he’s probably talking to a client he’s working with in this opening monologue. When Raymond is finished with his monologue, he gets back to work with his client. Evidently he was on break.  We wouldn’t necessarily get that from  the tension in Bucher’s voice, though . . . presumably he’s talking about fly fishing just to relax a little. Bucher’s voice never animates the way it should in the casual small-talk conversation that Raymond seems to be attempting here. He and/or director Shawn Gulyas chose to take the monologue in a different direction. Doesn’t sound like an attempt at casual, diverting small talk at all. It works in its own way, but lacks a level of subtlety that would’ve been really interesting considering the multi-layered mood of the rest of the play. Bucher executes the role well, but I would’ve loved to see more layers in his performance.

The Lobby of the Venue Doesn’t Look Any Different

from the way it usually does prior to a Windfall Theatre show. A small, intimate group of people has gathered. It occurs to me that there are usually complimentary refreshments before a Windfall show, but in the context of an office-themed comedy the coffee, bagels and donut holes make the lobby feel like a break room. The doors open and there we are walking into a seating area. In the context of the set, the chairs feel like a waiting area between two offices. We see a receptionist’s desk with all the little details that one woud expect to find there. The door we’ve just walked through has turned ino the office door of Edward Raymond. The door on the other side nearest the restrooms is now the door to Lorraine Taylor’s office. There’s corporate office muzak playing . . . selected hits from  ‘70’s and ‘80’s pop radio. The selections have interesting relevance for those of us who can identify them . . . really subtle foreshadowing. I distinctly remember one of the pre-show songs being a lazy elevator version of Careless Whisper. (The show closes on a soulless, cool jazzy rendition of  Police’s Every Breath You Take. Cute.) My wife and I come in and sit down in a pair of seats in the front row. I know it’s evening outside, but with a coffee from the lobby/break room in hand and the décor onstage looking so much like a low-budget office, I feel like it’s early morning and I’m about to start work. In a sense I am: I’m going to be writing scattered impressions of the show for my blog.

The Title Character’s Name is Actually Beverly Wilkins,

who is played by Carol Zippel. Wilkins is cleverly comic in the role precisely because she’s perfectly playing the role of career receptionist. There isn’t any exaggeration here because there really doesn’t need  to be. Adam Bock’s script plays it brilliantly mundane. Beverly knows the job of the receptionist perfectly and knows exactly how much she can get away with. She’s comfortable in a lifelong pink-collar job. We see her fuss over employees walking off with pens. We see her gossiping on the phone. There’s even what appears to be a fully functioning office PC on her desk which she can dive into for work. The illusion is complete. Zippel's preformance here is brilliantly subtle. As the central character in the play, it'd be very tempting for an actress to try to exaggerate things and make the character seem more staged. Zippel conscientiously avoids that. 

Lorraine Arrives Late For Work Again.

She’s being played by Sonia Rosenthal. Lorraine missed the bus that would’ve gotten her to work on time. Again. Seems to happen every day. She gets in to work and promptly starts talking to Beverly about her evening out the previous night. The character is very flirtatious. She’s wearing a leopard print dress. Beverly gets her coffee and she’s drinking it in a matching leopard print cup. Cute. It’s that endearing cuteness that makes the character work where she might’ve otherwise failed. Sonia Rosenthal’s stage presence never fails to seem very, very sweet, which works against the seductive, flirtatious nature of some of the lines she’s given here. The cuteness of her stage presence shifts the character . . .leniding the casual, flirtatious nature of the character a kind of sweetness that ends up being a lot more interesting than it might’ve been in the script. Sonia Rosenthal’s stage presence also contrasts impressively with the serious, professional end of the character. 

Inevitably, Someone From The Central Office Shows Up.

It’s a gentleman named Martin Dart. He’s played by Larry Birkett. The character is equal parts casual and professional. He’s got kind of an office salesman’s charm. Brikett plays both casual and professional ends of the character, but he seems more effective in the intimidating, professional moments the script gives him, so the dichotomy between the approachable and darker ends of his personality isn’t quite as subtle as it could be. He’s shown-up to see Ed Raymond. Much like Bucher’s performance as Raymond, Birkett’s Martin Dart would’ve been a bit more interesting with more layers of personality. The script certainly allows for it. 

The big take-away message here is this:

at the end of the day, Director Shawn Gulyas seems to have gone in a direction with the script that makes the contrast between comedy and drama in the play that much more intense. It works in its own way, but the script might've allowed for more of a subtle range of moods between the darkness and the comedy. For me personally this would've been a bit more satisfying, but as is, this is a really, really good production. The sharp relief between the two in this production make for a very provocative trip to the theatre. 

And On The Walk Out of The Theatre,
You’re walking back to the car. And the gleaming office buildings  of the business district can be seen off in the distance. And somehow they look just a bit more cold and emotionless. As usual, there are some lights on in those vast office building on Wisconsin Avenue. The show was only a little over an hour without intermission, but the show started at 8pm. So it's late. And maybe you’re wondering what’s going on in those offices at this hour . . . why are all those lights still on?

Windfall Theatre’s production of The Receptionist runs through October 10th at Village Church Arts on 130 East Juneau Avenue. All shows are at 8pm. A far more concise review of the play appears in this week’s Shepherd-Express.

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