As Communicating Doors opens, a leather-clad prostitute called Poopay enters a hotel room for an assignation and discovers that her customer, Reece, is a dying old man who doesn't require her usual services. Instead, he wants her to witness his confession. In the course of his business dealings and the accumulation of wealth, Reece has caused intense suffering in many areas of the world. He has also colluded in the murder of his two wives, killings carried out by his unsavory associate, Julian. Now he wants to ease his conscience by having Poopay take the confession to a trusted attorney. But Reece collapses, Julian figures out what's going on, and pretty soon Poopay's in desperate danger.
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That's where the communicating doors come in. Playwright Alan Ayckbourn says he's always been fascinated by those hotel-room doors that are perpetually locked and don't seem to go anywhere. Poopay rushes through such a door into what Julian jeeringly assures her is a box room from which there's no escape, and emerges -- somehow -- into a room identical to the hotel room she's just left. Only it's twenty years earlier, there's a woman in the room who turns out to be Reece's second wife, Ruella, and this is the night when, according to the confession, Julian will be coming to kill her.
Can Poopay convince Ruella that her life is in danger? Can the two of them somehow go back in time to save Reece's first wife, Jessica? The communicating door has its own eccentricities, the time frame shifts back and forth, and a Julian who's finally disposed of in 2014 may still pose a danger in 1994. Or 1974. The plot of this supernatural thriller is intricate and clever, the dialogue witty and the action laugh-out-loud funny when it isn't terrifying. There's some depth, too, as Ayckbourn tackles the unyielding mysteries of time and the question almost all of us have had occasion to ask ourselves: What if I could reach back in time and change just one action? Would that change everything that followed? The fact that this particular question has been endlessly explored in science fiction doesn't make it any less fascinating. The play's ending is satisfying and genuinely affecting.
Eric Prince, an Englishman who has worked extensively with Alan Ayckbourn, directs Openstage Theatre's production with finesse, aided by Lori Rosedahl's inventive set. I imagine it's Prince who's responsible for the fact that although the English accents aren't perfect, neither do they set your teeth on edge. They're good enough to note and then forget. There's some unevenness to the acting, but all of the performances are solid and keep things bubbling along. Deborah Marie Hlinka is terrific as Ruella. From the moment you see her, you understand Reece's earlier comment that his second wife was a good woman, because Hlinka radiates a strong, calm kindness. Marlin May plays Reece. He's called on to transform from a young healthy man to a wheezing elderly one -- in reverse, actually -- and he does this with panache. Steven P. Sickles's lip-curling, horror-movie smile is sometimes a bit over the top, but he's believably murderous as Julian. Bob Holt does well as the hotel security guard, Harold, but Amanda Young is less convincing as Reece's dim-witted first wife, Jessica. Jennifer Kaplan makes Poopay's voice a little too strident, and sometimes she seems to be indicating the requisite emotion rather than feeling it. I didn't believe in her terror, for example, when Julian was after her. Or that she was genuinely affected by her dealings with Ruella: While Hlinka smiled at Kaplan affectionately, Kaplan's own huge, expressive eyes were swiveling toward the audience. And yet this actress has talent. She rivets attention. And there's something so sweet and vulnerable about her Poopay that you really want things to work out for her.
In all, a funny, deft evening, with just a soupon of significance.