It may not call for the British accents they so often put on, but Adam Bock’s 2007 dark comedy is otherwise a perfect fit for Steep’s crew. It painstakingly sets up a workaday environment full of people with ordinary concerns before veering, so slightly you don’t quite feel it for a moment, into extraordinary circumstances.
The setting is a small, nondescript office (smartly detailed by designer Stephen Harold Carmody) where officious receptionist Beverly (Cheryl Roy) holds court, fielding calls, counting pens and serving up coffee. Beverly wrangles with her husband and daughter over the phone, gossips with young coworker Lorraine (Caroline Neff) about her man troubles and sends an increasing number of calls for missing boss Mr. Raymond (Peter Esposito) to his voice mail. All of this office banality, though played with precision comic timing by Roy and Neff, goes on long enough that when we get our first clue about what kind of work this office actually does, the sudden realization is jarring.
And that, one suspects, is Bock’s aim. All the chatter over office supplies and Beverly’s teacup collection and Lorraine’s self-pity when comparing herself to a celebrity on a tabloid cover is thrown into sharp relief against the slow reveal of the horrific work they perform with near-complete detachment. The Receptionist is an allegory for what we’re willing to tacitly condone in the name of national security so we can go on reading how stars are just like us. Consider it message received.