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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

unfortunately

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

favorite,

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

surprisingly

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

devices.

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

setting

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

consultant,"

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

partner-in-crime,

the monstrous Julian. Not about to let Poopay live with that

knowledge,

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

detective

(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

summer-stock

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

Communicating Doors, Variety Arts Theater, 110 Third

Avenue

at 13th Street, New York. Tele-Charge, 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.

$25 to $45.


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