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The Receptionist Something quite ominous is happening at the Central Office — the mysterious workplace floating somewhere outside the walls of Theater LaB Houston, where Adam Bock's The Receptionist is getting its regional premiere. The play opens with a startlingly moving segment full of smart, ironic foreshadowing. An unidentified man (Bob Boudreaux) stands with his back to the wall, a spotlight blazing in his eyes, recounting his memories — first of hunting, then of fly-fishing. We won't know who he is, or why this moment is so significant, until much later. After a fast blackout, we arrive in an office, a space remarkable only for its absolute corporate ordinariness. The banality of the set lies at the soul of Bock's story — it's the ordinariness that makes what happens later so terrifying. At the center of this story is the tidy and matronly Beverly Wilkins (Terri Branda Carter), the receptionist of the title, who watches over her desk with mother-hen vigilance and gossips with the scatterbrained Lorraine Taylor (Krysti Wilson). Bock crafts the poetry of this play from this language of the dull and boring. The cast, under Carolyn Houston Boone's rapid-fire direction, finds both the provocative and the bizarre in this funny world full of dark shadows. When Martin Dart (Alan Heckner) from the Central Office arrives asking for a Mr. Raymond, who is very late for work, we know some sort of crack has just occurred along the surface. It's not until Mr. Raymond finally arrives and lets us know what he's been up to that we get an idea of what this business does and why Dart's name is important. But that would be getting to the end, which we can't do here. We'll just say that it's worth it to wait with this receptionist and see what happens once we get past her desk. Through December 13. 1706 Alamo, 713-868-7516. — LW

Sunshine Boys Neil Simon's tribute to bygone vaudeville and the troupers who gave it life is heartfelt and hilarious — one of his best. The laughs ring true and arise from genuine affection; the jokes aren't appliquéd but woven into the fabric. Lewis and Clark (James Huggins and Carl Masterson), formerly a comedy duo, haven't spoken in years — as a matter of fact, they hate each other — but are thrown together for a TV reunion special worked out by Clark's exasperated agent, who just happens to be his nephew (L. Robert Westeen). Unlike Simon's later work, which can be downright brittle and nasty, this lovely valentine from 1972 exudes warmth. Masterson and Huggins, fabulous pros, revel in the funny stuff as if basking in the sun, while Westeen plays the rumpled, annoyed nephew like a sheepdog left out in the rain. Marlo Blue, as Willie's registered nurse, is straight from Broadway central casting and about as perfect as can be. All in all, this comedy of grouchy manners is one of the most pleasant evenings in Houston theater this fall. Simon says, Go. Through December 13. Company OnStage, 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219. — DLG

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