“Communicating Doors” at Olympia Little Theatre can best be described as time travel, murder mystery, erotic farce.
It is brilliantly constructed by playwright Alan Ayckbourn, with a plot that changes time and place repeatedly. The characters themselves often do not recognize one another. Who is who is clearer to the audience than to the characters in the play. But close attention must be paid.
To give a hint as to the madness of this play, I shall repeat what Ruella (Meghan Goodman) says to Jessica (Hannah Eklund) when trying to explain what is going on. She says: “Your husband murdered you 40 years from now and wrote a confession that he gave to a prostitute.” She says that with a straight face.
Julian (Christian Carvajal, a.k.a. Carv) is the epitome of evil. He is best friend and assistant to Reece (Kevin McManus), the husband that Ruella tells Jessica is going to murder her in 40 years. Ruella also was married to Reece in an earlier time period. Are we clear yet?
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The play takes place in three distinctive time periods: May 1998, October 2018, and July 2038, all in the same hotel suite, one with a door that supposedly goes to a store room. Whenever one of the women goes through that door, she comes out in a different time.
The play opens with a prostitute, the dominatrix, Poopay (Heather R. Christopher) entering the room because she has been hired, she thinks, to have sex with Reece. She is greeted not by Reece but by Julian, who threatens her and scares her to death. Granted, this is a comedy, but funny or not, Julian’s anger is realistic and intense as played by Carvajal. Seldom have I seen an actor portray fear so convincingly as Christopher in this scene. These are two actors whose work I have admired in many plays, and they are at the top of their game in “Communicating Doors.”
It turns out that, unbeknownst to Julian, Reece is not interested in sex at all. In fact, he is at death’s door, and all he wants from Poopay is her signature as a witness to his confession to multiple murders.
That’s as much plot as I can reveal, except to say that Reece’s second wife, Ruella, turns out to be a good detective and his third wife, Jessica, is naïve and incredulous but eventually overcomes her shock at the idea that time travel is happening. She bonds with both Ruella and Poopay and helps them solve the mystery of who killed whom and how. Perhaps they can even succeed in going back in time and changing the course of history, and thereby save themselves.
The only other person involved in the mayhem is Harold the hotel manager and security man (Drew Doyle), who is no help at all to anyone.
With quick set changes and characters speedily coming and going, a lot of off-stage talk, and demanding physical comedy, this play is quite a challenge for director Michael Christopher and the ensemble cast. If you do not laugh throughout, you’re probably asleep, or perhaps you’re one of Julian’s and Reece’s murder victims.
The set, modeled after Piet Mondrian paintings, includes a simple but effective revolve. No one is credited with the set design, but the director is credited with constructing it.
One other note of interest is that the audience is asked to exit to the lobby at intermission. No one is allowed to stay in their seats. I’ve never known a theater to do that, but the reason will become clear in Act 2
They have been selling out, so get your tickets early.
Check Alec’s Clayton’s blog at alecclayton.blogspot.com for reviews of other area theatrical productions.
When: 7:25 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 4
Where: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia
Tickets: $11 to $15, $2 student discount, available at Yenney Music, 2703 Capital Mall Dr., Olympia
Information: 360-786-9484, http://olympialittletheater.org/