I wouldn’t go through that door if I were you! It’s not simply a case of ending up in an adjoining room or storage closet, not at Colonial Players as they open their 65th season with Alan Ayckbourn’s Communicating Doors. Jumping through time in 20-year gaps in this farcical thriller, a young dominatrix finds herself caught up in the affairs of a dying criminal whose previous wives have been murdered and she’s now the next target. All taking place in the same sixth floor suite of a five-star London hotel, the time jumps brings a new level of comic fun to the stage. Directed by Michelle Bruno, this highly amusing and engaging comedy with an edge of the thriller genre cut in will keep you on the edge of your seat to know how it all ends.
Lighting Designer Shirley Panek, in consultation with special effects specialists Wed Bedsworth, Jeff Mocho, and Amy Wheaton, bring the epitome of time travel affects into play for this show. Tying in pop cultural references from one of Britain’s most highly praised time-travel television classics, Panek uses a series of flashing red, green, and blue lights to delineate moments of time travel, following the patterns of red to the future blue to the past and green to go even further back. Accompanying these flashing blinking lights with the all too recognizable sound of the TARDIS (a Doctor Who reference) to indicate time travel is a brilliant move and pays homage to the great time travelers that came before and will come after Ayckbourn’s masterpiece.
Director Michelle Bruno has minor flaws that keep this show from being perfect, largely to do with the timing and pacing of the production. Ayckbourn’s thrilling sense of fast-paced comedy gets jumbled slightly in the long pauses between time skips due to the need to change out superfluous props. Telephones, throw pillows and other accents to denote the passage of time from 1994 to 2014 are switched out during lengthy pauses, detracting from the momentum of the play. The same awkward pauses of darkness occur during a few of the other time skips as well; tightening these up would serve the play well. Bruno does, however, inspire a fascinating chemistry, albeit dysfunctional and hilarious, between the members of her cast, really honing in on the funnier moments and making the terrifying moments of suspense that much more tense.
Reece (Jeff Mocho) is the rotating point that starts the show in motion; an ailing criminal ready to confess. Mocho’s ‘old age’ makeup, while severe, is a bit overdone in the opening number to the point of looking clownish and could stand to be toned down. This aside Mocho gives a rousing performance as a dying elderly character, committing fully in his physicality to the crippling stature and unsteady gait that such a man might carry. His voice is pinched, a refreshing contrast to when he appears later as his younger self in 1974, and overall his presence on the stage is focused. Mocho appears more naturally at ease by the end of the production; transforming his character in the subtle ways necessary to keep him in-line with the story.
Julian (Dave Carter) balances the notions of hired thug and utterly despicable quite well despite his wandering accent. Carter tends to lose his British accent when barking out his ferocious orders, which he does with a terrifying vehemence. And when he appears in the 1994 time zone he is completely without an accent. But this can be overlooked because of how well Carter plays the villain; his rigid physicality and strict approach to devious deeds makes him frightening, well warranting the tears that are often cried by the females in his presence.
Harold (Nick Beschen) rounds out the trio of men in this production, playing the quirky hotel security guard. Beschen has a firm handle on his accent and on the subtle nuances of his peculiar character, right down to the obnoxious little snuffling grunting laugh that happens every time his character finds something amusing. Interacting well with the women, Beschen is a reactive responder, his startled facial expressions belaying even more of the comic nuances of the play to the audience.
Jessica (Sarah Wade) is the first wife, from way back in 1974; a sprightly little thing lovestruck on her honeymoon. Wade plays the character with a dippy sense of amorous new bride. Shocked at the notion that someone from the future could possibly have infiltrated her hotel suite, Wade’s character grows from flighty and silly to more grounded and slightly saucy by the time the production wraps a conclusion. Having witty banter exchanges with Ruella (Lilian Oben) the pair create some highly comic moments throughout the performance.
Oben, as the second wife to Reece, has a keen sense of comic delivery especially when it comes to her acerbic and brutally honest sense of wit. With a tongue laced with sharp but hysterical insults and a vividly animated face for expressing moments of shock, terror, and utter indignation, Oben lands a good deal of laughter in this show. Her moments of physical comedy are worth a mention as well, little moments like swilling hard from the jars of alcohol during moments of sheer panic and crisis as well as her magnanimous attitude toward Poopay (Pamela Woodward) in general.
Woodward, along with Wade and Oben, has a powerful and clearly defined British accent, though hers is a coarse cockney adaptation while the other two ladies present a refined brand of British English, she hits the characterization of her rough and gritty character spot on. Woodward’s ability to transform from witty and comic to terrified and histrionic and back again is rather impressive. Creating a clearly defined barrier between her two operating modes showcases the more dynamic side of the character and gives the otherwise static existence of Poopay some real depth. Woodward has a passionate existence in all of her stage relationships, each one crafted and honed differently but with the same enthusiastic spirit. A sharp and smart performance tied together with her perfect sense of awkward comic timing, Woodward are the whips that bind in this case.
Running Time: Approximately three hours, with one intermission.
Communicating Doors plays through October 12, 2013 at Colonial Players— 108 East Street in Annapolis, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 268-7373, or purchase them online.