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This review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
September 9, 1998. All rights reserved.
Review: `Communicating Doors’
Neither frightening enough for melodrama nor foolish
enough for farce, "Communicating Doors" is a lesser entry
by the prolific British playwright Alan Ayckbourn ("Absurd Person
Singular," "Bedroom Farce"). This curious but
dull hybrid presumably belongs to that rarely encountered theatrical
genre known as the sci-fi comic thriller.
Ayckbourn, whose over 50 plays have made him a perennial British
has not yet had a substantial hit in America. And this, his 49th opus,
is not likely to change his status. A twisty little romp back and
forth through the decades, "Communicating Doors" has
enjoyed two successful engagements in London where it won the 1996
Writers Guild award for best West End play.
To his credit, Ayckbourn’s latest dramatic conceit cannot be faulted
for being crafty, only for growing tiresome long before it is over.
However, the delightful presence of Mary-Louise Parker, and a ripping
performance by Patricia Hodges, may be enough to send some of you
scurrying to the Variety Arts Theater. While it is relatively easy
for us to take the leap of faith necessary to believe in time travel,
it appears much more harrowing a trip for a couple of women in peril,
whose fates rest in the hands of a playwright famous for his audacious
The play’s somewhat confounding device is the communicating doors
(i.e. interior doors that connect adjoining hotel suites) in London’s
Regal Hotel, through which those who enter are whisked backward in
time. This suite, which we encounter in 1978, 1998, and 2018 (the
latter being the date on which the play begins and ends), is the
where murder, mayhem, and mischief are afoot.
The first to fall into this macabre, Alice-in-Wonderland predicament
is Poopay (Mary-Louise Parker), a beguiling yet hardly intimidating
black leather-clad dominatrix. "I’m a special sexual
explains Poopay, as she demonstrates her act with a few well chosen
items — "A bit of fun and pain" — from her little
black bag. Poopay, which she says means "French for doll,"
is hired for the night by Reece (Tom Beckett), the aged, ailing owner
of the hotel and his partner Julian (Gerrit Graham). It isn’t much
of a surprise when the wheezing Reece, a businessman with a shady
past who is barely able now to sustain a breath, reveals he doesn’t
really want Poopay for a final fling with whips and chains.
During Julian’s absence, Reece asks Poopay to witness and sign his
written confession to a life devoted to unscrupulous deals and heinous
crimes, and particularly to his sordid involvement in the murders
of two former wives, actually committed by his long-time
the monstrous Julian. Not about to let Poopay live with that
the returning Julian lunges after Poopay who seeks escape through
the communicating doors only to find herself in the same room in 1998.
Here she confronts Reece’s second wife, Ruella (Patricia Hodges),
providentially prior to Ruella’s murder.
You won’t have much trouble staying one step ahead of the house
(played with high-minded incompetence by David McCallum) as Poopay
(whose real name is Phoebe) and Ruella attempt to figure things out.
The way out for Ruella unwittingly turns out to be backwards when
she goes through the same doors and finds that she is in the same
room back in 1978 on the wedding night of the plotted-to-be-murdered
Jessica (Candy Buckley), wife Number One.
Hardly the complex character she recently played in "How I Learned
to Drive," Parker is, nevertheless, a joy to watch as she sheds
her cheap and tacky facade for that of a sensitive and vulnerable
young woman on the verge of re-writing history. The lithe and limber
Hodges finds the comic core of body language and the essence of upper
crust attitudinizing. But why are we getting no better than
performances from Graham, Buckley, and Beckett? Although it seems
to work for the cast, Christopher Ashley’s crisp direction couldn’t
keep me from getting lost in space, nor in designer David Gallo’s
too-boring-for-words hotel suite. HH
— Simon Saltzman
at 13th Street, New York. Tele-Charge, 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.
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