Time and Again
The performers' spotty British accents make whole sections of dialogue unintelligible, and the pacing often lags where it should accelerate, but the Aurora Fox Theatre Company's production of Communicating Doors proves to be an entertaining comic thriller anyway. On the strength of some strong performances, beautifully realized design elements and artful directorial touches, British playwright Alan Ayckbourn's play -- described in a program note as "Psycho meets Back to the Future" -- manages to hold our interest for the better part of two and a half hours.
All of the action takes place in a suite at London's Regal Hotel in 2014, 1994 and 1974. A streetwise call girl, Phoebe (aka Poopay to her closest clients), has been summoned to the posh rooming house to show Reece, an aging billionaire, a good time before he dies. But rather than have his way with the young lass, Reece unburdens his soul. He admits to having played a part in the long-ago murders of his two spouses, and, to ensure that some sort of justice is done after his death, he asks Poopay to sign his written confession and deliver it to the proper authorities.
When things take an unexpected turn, the flustered hooker tries to escape by way of a door that supposedly leads to an adjoining suite of rooms. Much to her surprise, however, the closet-sized space between the two suites turns out to be a sort of time tunnel that transports her twenty years into the past. There, Poopay meets up with Reece's second wife, Ruella, on the eve of what was to be her murder. In the scenes that follow, the two women travel back and forth in time (and, in the process, encounter wife number one, Jessica) in a frantic quest to alter past and future events. Unfortunately, a maniacal murderer has a disturbing knack for continuing to surface in the same time periods as the three women.
Director Terry Dodd stages the action on a marvelously illuminated set. Several walls have been removed so that the audience can view what's happening in separate rooms simultaneously; in a playful twist on the time-travel aspect, many of the doorways are framed by three stacked, slightly askew doorjambs. (Michael R. Duran designed the tasteful setting, and Pete Nielson fashioned the moody lighting.) A few scenes that seem to require the sharper approach of farce devolve into plodding episodes, and -- owing to the on-again, off-again accents -- some key exchanges are hard to follow. But for the most part, the performers navigate the imaginative piece with ease and flair.
Karen LaMoureaux leads the company with a splendid portrait of the twenty-something Poopay, who, it turns out, is as reluctant a dominatrix as the oldest profession has ever known. On stage for almost the entire show, the winsome actress delights during comic scenes and evokes tender feelings during more serious ones -- including her masterful playing of the surprise ending. Patricia Mansfield's no-nonsense, sympathetic Ruella, who's eventually able to see through her husband's lies without being victimized by them, complements her. As her double-crossing mate, Greg Humphreys plays the many faces of Reece with style and panache; appropriately enough, his final appearance demonstrates the power of humans to forge their own destinies. In addition to making an attractive Jessica, Kathy Kautz makes the most of a humorous reference to Psycho. As the never-trustworthy Julian, Augustus Truhn slithers his way through various time periods and locales. And Mark J. Middlebrooks lends some silly, cartoonish touches to the hotel security chief, Harold.
To be sure, Ayckbourn's play isn't the stuff of great farce, and it's not a nonstop, spine- tingling thriller, either. But, in Dodd and company's capable hands, the combination of the two forms yields many unexpected treasures, including the periodic affirmation of a comment that's voiced early on: "In the end, you can only convince yourself that a version of the truth is the truth itself."
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