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This article was prepared by Jack Florek for the February 13, 2002

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: `Communicating Doors’

The vicissitudes of life have often been likened to

traveling down a bumpy road. But watching Bristol Riverside Theater’s

current production of Alan Ayckbourn’s "Communicating Doors,"

on stage through February 17, is a bit like riding in the passenger

seat as your grandfather drives 40 miles per hour down the turnpike

and you happen to spot a 10-ton tractor-trailer bearing down from

behind.

Ayckbourn, who is often called `the Neil Simon of Britain,’ has

written

over 50 plays. Characterized by an elaborate structure, farcical

silliness,

with a dark hint of cynicism mixed in, his plays are often performed

at a tempo set a notch or two faster than reality. Better that way

for audiences to enjoy the swirling wit, the juggernaut of dialogue,

and the deliciously convoluted plot lines without getting mired in

the sticky mess of wondering whether any of it actually makes sense.

Ayckbourn’s "Communicating Doors" of 1994 is no exception.

Set in the year 2014, Poopay Dayseer (Grace Gonglewski) is a

tender-hearted

prostitute summoned to a London hotel suite to service a decrepit

old businessman named Reece (Kenneth Boys). Adorned in a black leather

dominatrix outfit, topped with a chic blond wig, Poopay is slow to

realize that the old man is neither interested in — nor capable

of — sex. What Reece really wants is for Poopay to act as witness

to a document he has kept hidden in the bidet outlining the specifics

of the murder of his two wives by his business associate Julian (Dan

Diggles).

When Julian arrives threatening to kill again, Poopay sneaks out

through

the nearest door, unaware that it will thrust her 20 years back in

time to the same hotel suite in 1994. Here Poopay discovers Reece’s

second wife, Ruella (Denise Lute), on the eve of her murder. Poopay

tries to explain all this to Ruella, who remains skeptical, until

she goes through the same door and finds Jessica (Elle Alexander),

Reece’s first wife, alive and well in 1974. The trick, for all three

women, is to work together in order to proceed into the future without

getting themselves murdered.

As written, "Communicating Doors" is like a good old-fashioned

melodrama, mixed with a Twilight Zone-style time warp, and sweetened

with some ’90s feminist bonding. After adding in some slapstick comedy

and rib-sticking sentimentality, it aims to pat the audience on the

fanny and sends them home happy.

Onstage at Bristol Riverside Theater, Edward Keith Baker’s direction

strikes me as slow. Lasting nearly two-and-a-half hours,

"Communicating

Doors" plods along in the slow lane, leaving us riders shifting

in our seats. Dialogue that should be rapid-fire repeatedly gets

tangled

up in pauses, as actors cock their heads or curl their brows, busily

wringing that extra bit of meaning from the emotional lives of their

fictional characters.

Unfortunately, the meaning just isn’t there, nor was it meant to be.

Ayckbourn’s play is as light and airy as a fairy tale and any attempt

to add poetic meat to its bones become maudlin. It also prevents the

audience from becoming involved in whatever strengths the play may

have.

Despite the odd strain of the production, the cast does perform

admirably.

Grace Gonglewski is quite charming as Poopay. She adds spoonfuls of

sex appeal to the show, performs capably as a slapstick comedienne,

as well as playing the earnest good girl with the twinkle in her eye.

Denise Lute’s Ruella is crisp and determined, and is in many ways

the centerpiece of the production. Despite the circumstances her

character

finds herself in, Lute never allows Ruella to become overwhelmed by

whiny bitterness. Elle Alexander is also likable as the rather

dim-witted

Jessica.

Kenneth Boys and Dan Diggles are both quite lively in their smaller

roles as Reece and Julian. Boys, in particular, crafts his character

with a studied eye, alternating as a vibrant young man and brittle

codger with a dramatic intensity that is unusual in such light comic

fare. Dan Diggles is wholly evil, as the part requires, but wisely

stops short of adding any Snidely Whiplash-like flourishes to his

performance. Roland Johnson is equally fine as Harold, the ho-hum

hotel security man, playing his character like a frumpy twit, but

nevertheless adding to the comic stew.

"Communicating Doors" is a difficult play to watch —

although,

with a few adjustments, it seems that it could really be quite fine.

Coming out of the show, theater goers may discover that their stomach

muscles are quite sore. Chances are it won’t be from laughing, but

from those anxious turns backward toward the rear view mirror.

— Jack Florek

Communicating Doors, Bristol Riverside Theater,

120 Radcliffe Street, Bristol, 215-785-0100. Runs through Sunday,

February 17. $27 to $34.


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