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Dark and funny, Interplayers stages ‘The Receptionist’

Caren Graham plays the title character in “The Receptionist” being staged by Interplayers in Spokane. . (Jesse Tinsley)
Caren Graham plays the title character in “The Receptionist” being staged by Interplayers in Spokane. . (Jesse Tinsley)

‘The Receptionist,” a 2007 play which opens tonight at Interplayers, sounds a little like the NBC sitcom “The Office.” It wrings wry laughs from life in the common cubicle.

Yet a twist occurs halfway through which causes critics to describe “The Receptionist” in words that are very un-“Office”-like:

• “Sinister.”

• “Ominous.”

• “Macabre.”

• “A poisoned Post-It note of a play.”

Adam Bock’s dark comedy spends its first half showing the audience how banal and gossipy life in the cubicles can be. The matronly receptionist of the title presides over a group of underemployed drones, beleaguered bosses and balky office machinery.

Then the story takes a decidedly sharp turn.

“A single, jarring line of dialogue sets the calm surface of the play rippling with creepy currents,” wrote New York Times critic Charles Isherwood, after the off-Broadway premiere.

What’s the twist? You’ll just have to go and find out. According to Isherwood, the power of the play depends on surprise.

Yet this play is also “very, very funny,” said Reed McColm, the artistic director of Interplayers and a member of the cast.

Interplayers has cast veteran Portland actress Caren Graham to play the key title role.

“We needed someone who is both very funny and absolutely real,” said McColm. “Caren can change lanes in midsentence and still make both sentences clear.”

Graham has appeared at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and many other theaters around the country.

The rest of the cast is made up of Caryn Hoaglund-Trevett as the “airhead co-worker,” McColm as the besieged boss and Jorge Paniagua as a mysterious man from the Central Office. Maria Caprile, one of Spokane’s top theater professionals, directs.

While “The Receptionist” promises plenty of comedy, it also “raises disquieting, provocative questions about a society’s complicity with evil,” said McColm.

Bock, one of theater’s most successful young playwrights, has had off-Broadway hits with “The Thugs,” “The Drunken City” and most recently “A Small Fire.”