Doorknobs and slapsticks

Alan Ayckbourn gets lost in his own time machine.

SOMETIMES AN ENTIRE play is suggested by a simple mundane observation. In the case of Alan Ayckbourn's farce/thriller Communicating Doors, I suspect that its genesis arose from his perception that most hotel rooms are not only anonymous, but relatively ageless. In the hands of an amateur scribbler, this would be at best an unpromising beginning. But in the case of Ayckbourn, a seasoned writer with over 60 plays and countless awards to his credit, well, it's an entire evening down the tubes.

Communicating Doors

A Contemporary Theater till November 21

Twenty years in the future, would-be dominatrix Poopay (Alexandra Boyd, who seems irretrievably stunned by her character's awful name) is brought to the room of eccentric tycoon Reece (Kevin Donovan), who proceeds to ask her a favor outside of her specialty: Witness a confession he's written and take it to the authorities. Before she can do so, however, she's chased out of the room by Julius (J. Michael Flynn, who is convincingly tall) and into a series of "communicating doors." These lead her, for no adequately explained reason, into the exact same hotel room 20 years previous, where she meets one of the would-be victims mentioned in the confession. Before long, there's a chance to leap back even 20 years earlier, to make contact with yet another woman threatened with murder.

I have an argument for the primacy of theater over TV and most films that goes something like this: The best thing about most plays is that, buffered from the vast economic forces that infect those other media, they can afford to send out a message undiluted by the worst excesses of commercialism. Then something like this comes along, and I throw up my hands, because this is the sort of shoddy, below-par product that you can catch on television any evening, even if it is emblazoned with Ayckbourn's illustrious name.

The unfortunate cast and director Jeff Steitzer, not sure what else to do, treat the characters like the sort of empty-headed British twits you can still catch on reruns of Are You Being Served?. But the flat dialogue and uninspired plotting utterly defeat almost all of them. All, that is, save David Pichette, whose never-say-die trouper colors have never fluttered more wildly than in the role of Harold the hotel security chief. Blustering, fluttering his arms, and racing around like a headless chicken with a complex agenda, he seems to be in a different and much funnier play. Perhaps in an alternate universe that very play is taking place; certainly this show appealed to many of the opening night audience. But from my particular seat, I saw only a limp and dismal product.

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