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The Reception

A seemingly normal cocktail reception morphs into an absurdist fantasy.

Hannah Heller, Leslie Cuyjet, Jane Comfort (front), Sean Donovan and Ishmael Houston-Jones (rear) in a scene from “The Reception” (Photo credit: Maria Baranova)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

Directed by Sean Donovan and Sebastián Calderón Bentin (and created in collaboration with the company), The Reception follows a perfectly normal social situation watching perfectly normal people slowly enter the realm of the surreal as a cocktail party morphs into absurdist fantasy.

Five well-dressed people—brilliantly costumed by Felix Ciprián—stroll about or sit chatting on Neal Wilkinson’s smartly decorated platform set, a set that would soon reveal many surprises.

Total normalcy prevails as the lights rose on a subdued but festive party in which Jane Comfort, Leslie Cuyjet, Hannah Heller, Ishmael Houston-Jones and Mr. Donovan mix and match over liquor and hors d’oeuvres, conversing about this and that.

Soon little rends in the fabric of normalcy became apparent.   Bits of dialogue are repeated senselessly and the five revelers keep returning to the same positions (three on a couch, one alone at the border of the space and one behind the bar).  Attempts at dancing get more and more inelegant, even leading to a bit of physical sparring.  Even worse, there is an intermittent ominous, crackling sound emanating from deep in the floor, as if the house were about to collapse.

The segments are punctuated by flashes of light, part of Amanda K. Ringger’s brilliant lighting design, signifying further and further decay of social niceties.

Mr. Houston-Jones keeps asking for certain tarts (“those little tarty things”); Mr. Donovan repeatedly invades a box of nibblies; the three women keep up a discussion about some real estate with Ms. Comfort eventually relating a vignette about being insulted on the street (with the oft-repeated punchline, “Get the f**k out of here, grandma!”)

Hannah Heller, Sean Donovan (rear), Leslie Cuyjet and Ishmael Houston-Jones in a scene from “The Reception” (Photo credit: Maria Baranova)

Tipsiness becomes more and more obvious as the five make themselves comfortable, removing jackets and shoes and becoming touchy-feely.  These sophisticates gradually become giddy children, longing for adventure, a longing that a mere cocktail reception can’t satisfy.

These five cultured revelers seems to be suffering from No Exit-mania, but instead of that drama’s “hell is other people,” The Reception turns that on its head into “heaven is a childlike adventure with other people” as they discover that the room they’re in yields more beneath its floorboards than they could ever imagine.

They tear apart the room and turn it into a ship on which they sail away under a sky full of blinking stars.  (Is it a dream?)

It is all achieved with subtle grace by the performers, an evocative aural ambiance by Brandon Wolcott and Tyler Kieffer (including bits of classical music, cool jazz, some period pop tunes, a sea chantey and haunting sound effects) and a superb technical team that makes all the dramatic transformations memorable.

This one deserves to be seen again, for a longer run.

The Reception (June 14-24, 2017)

HERE, 145 Sixth Avenue, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit http://www.here.org

Running time: one hour with no intermission

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (213 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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