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The Receptionist ranges from humor to provocative questions
Posted: Saturday, April 30, 2016 10:30 pm
By Bill Cissna Special Correspondent

Since its founding in 2013, the tiny Spirit Gum Theatre Company has quickly built a reputation for excellent play selection. Often, the picks haven’t been produced often or they are little-known gems that are hard to find in the Triad.

The company’s latest production, Adam Bock’s “The Receptionist,” is no exception.

Bock’s play, which will be presented at The Actor’s Group in West End, starts with an average morning in a company’s “Northeast Office.”

In that office, Beverly Wilkins (Cheryl Ann Roberts) holds court at the receptionist’s desk. As Spirit Gum’s website says, “She’s the first in, the last out, makes the coffee, manages the office supplies and, of course, answers the phone.”

She also, as on any other day, finds time to gossip with her co-workers — including Lorraine (Britt Cannino) — about their lives and her own.

The routine takes a significant shift when a charming representative appears from the Central Office. Mr. Dart (Latimer Alexander V) has dropped in for a talk with Beverly’s boss, Mr. Raymond (Gregg Vogelsmeier).

Sarah Jenkins, Spirit Gum’s newest company member, is also directing her first full-length play with an adult cast. She studied directing in college, though, and worked with children on two different productions of “The Little Mermaid” last summer.

“I definitely learned a lot about thinking creatively on my feet with 6 to 13-year-olds last July,” she said.

Jenkins said that the show takes a turn partway through the script.

“Without giving too much away, it starts out like the TV show ‘The Office,’ then takes an abrupt turn into ‘1984’ territory. It’s really funny, but with a creepy edge.”

Jenkins was introduced to the script soon after joining Spirit Gum.

“I really love the natural flow of the language and the humor,” she said. “And I find the darker second half of the play to be really, distressingly pertinent, considering some of the current social and political goings-on in the country of late.”

She also decided that the characters were equally interesting. “I found them all to be compelling.”

Roberts, portraying the title character, had read the script, which in turn compelled her to audition. “It’s very much an ensemble piece that challenges the actors,” she said. “It’s not what we say; it’s also what we don’t say that adds a level of intrigue.”

Roberts has acted with a number of the live theater companies around the Triad. Her favorite roles have been Willa Dean in “The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife” at Theatre Alliance, Maureen in “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” at Open Space Café Theatre, and originating the role of Ellie in “Conversations in a Café.”

She also sat in the director’s chair for a Greensboro production of “All About Faith.”

“I’m finding that the script made it easy to bring Beverly to life,” she said. “She’s a very open character, in the sense that she’ll tell you what’s going on in her life and provide her opinions and advice about everyone else’s lives, too.”

“Sarah’s an actor’s director,” Roberts said. “She allows that freedom of character discovery in rehearsal, and her notes are spot on.”

Roberts worked with Alexander on “Beauty Queen of Leenane,” and she sees some similarities. “Our scenes for ‘The Receptionist’ have a ‘Beauty Queen’ quality.”

Though it’s her first time acting with Cannino and Vogelsmeier, she thinks the ensemble works well together. “I’m really excited to be working with Britt and Gregg. She cracks me up at every rehearsal, and I’ve seen him on stage several times in the area.”

Jenkins is bringing her extensive experience as an actor to her new role as a director.

“It has been very weird to switch my brain from ‘actor’ to ‘director,’” she said. “I keep trying to remember exactly how I’ve been directed in the past in ways that were helpful to me. I do think that being an actor helps me. I know what little things drive me crazy in rehearsal and try to avoid them.”

Having each ensemble character hold an important position in the story helps, too. “I want to tell the overall story, the big picture, not take on an individual role,” she said.

“The Receptionist” opens on Friday for two weekends. If past Spirit Gum shows are any indication, reservations for the small space are recommended.

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