Outsourcing Evil 

Horror lurks beneath The Receptionist's quotidian surface

With limited resources, financial support, and name recognition, CoHo Productions manages to do what many larger, more established companies only dream of doing—they produce contemporary, relevant plays with a grace and skill that's sorely lacking on far too many stages in this town. Their current offering, The Receptionist, is another success.

Playwright Adam Bock's dark comedy is a companion piece to The Thugs, a black comedy about office temps that was produced at Portland Center Stage last year. The Receptionist masquerades as a The Office-like exploration of the comedy of the mundane-that is, until it becomes clear just what, exactly, they do at this office.

Director and Scenic Designer Rose Riordan (who also workshopped and directed The Thugs) absolutely nails the play's look and tone, and has assembled an incredible team. From the industrial carpet to nondescript furniture and art, the setting is impeccably reminiscent of any suburban office in any office park across the country. Jen Raynak's sound design is subtle but has some fantastic touches, including the industrial hum of machinery that provides an unsettling background for the action. Riordan's work with Laura Faye Smith as Lorraine and Sharonlee McLean as Beverly is simply outstanding. Smith's insecure, self-indulgent Lorraine is perfectly laughable without going over the top, and McLean is just outstanding as Beverly, the titular receptionist. Playwright Bock is incredibly skilled at writing dialogue that actually sounds like real people talking, and Smith and McLean deliver it incredibly well. As Martin Dart and Mr. Raymond, Chris Murray and Gary Norman are strong but don't have quite as much to work with as the women characters-a rarity in any play. The ensemble shines when they're together onstage, playing off of each other with an effortlessness that's truly a pleasure to watch.

Just as the quotidian comedy of life in an office seems to have run its course and the play begins to drag, the nature of their business is revealed and a crisis develops that none of the characters saw coming. Much more than a routine comedy about office life, The Receptionist turns out to be a play about the outsourcing of evil. Even the truly horrific can become banal when you're punching the clock 40 hours a week. TEMPLE LENTZ

CoHo Productions at the CoHo Theater, 2257 NW Raleigh, 220-2646, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm, through Nov 22, $20-25

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