Farce has become a house specialty at Hedgerow Theatre in recent years, and their current production, COMMUNICATING DOORS, is no exception. Directed by Liam Castellan, the company gives Alan Ayckbourn’s 46th play a rousing rendition, running September 4—October 5 in their Rose Valley theatre.
Ayckbourn is one of Britain’s most prolific playwrights, with works performed around the globe for the past half a century. Because of his prodigious output and commercial success, he is often called the “English Neil Simon,” but his plays tend to be a little more cerebral and acerbic than his American counterpart. There is usually a twist or an unusual gimmick involved. However, his characters are very human and grounded in reality. They are very bright but fallible people in very wild situations. And that is the key to a good farce—the characters have to be exceedingly genuine human beings who must cope with highly bizarre circumstances.
The twist in COMMUNICATING DOORS is time travel; but, the play isn’t overly “techish,” the viewer is given enough information to understand the premise without being hit over the head with too much sci-fi jargon, etc. Written in 1993, Ayckbourn was inspired by two of his favorite films: Psycho and Carrie, as well as J.B. Priestley’s time-travel plays; he also described the play as “sort of a Hitchcock version of Back to the Future. “ The action unfolds in a London hotel suite; at the start of the story, it is 2034 and civilization is in a sort of post-apocalyptic state. Dominatrix “Poopay” has been called to the suite for what she thinks is going to be a typical job, but finds the elderly and dying Reece has something very different in mind. Poopay also meets Reece’s partner Julian—who is not a nice guy. When Julian threatens Poopay, she attempts to escape and winds up going through the suite’s communicating (connecting) door. Instead of ending up in the next room, Poopay travels back twenty years to the same suite in 2014. There she meets Reece’s second wife, Ruella. And the plot thickens from there….
One of the great discoveries for me was that it is the ladies who drive the plot of the play—they come to their own rescue. Kyra Baker makes her Hedgerow debut in the role of Poopay, and she is very entertaining as she unfolds her character’s story arc for us. Baker definitely has a real feel for her role’s circumstances, nailing the lower-class Londoner. (She does need to learn to hold for laughs though.) Stacy Skinner matches her beautifully as Ruella, showing us a woman with tremendous will and compassion. Ruella is the “brains” of the bunch, and Skinner shows us that perfectly. She manages the comedy with great skill as well. Rounding out the distaff portion of the cast is Hedgerow newcomer Mary Beth Shrader as Reece’s first wife, Jessica. The role is deceptive; one tends to dismiss Jessica as a typical British farce bimbette in her dainties… But there’s a little more to her, and Shrader does a lovely job of tricking us. She handles both sides of the role with great aplomb.
Now for the male contingent. Zoran Kovcic is his usual droll self in the role of a long-suffering hotel security man named Harold. Kovcic has a patent on these characters, I think—he’s so perfect at them. Shaun Yates is great fun to watch as both a doddering, ailing Reece in the first scene and as the virile young Reece on his honeymoon with Jessica in a later sequence. Yates is wonderfully adept at switching gears and brings great comedic skill to the role. Hedgerow Fellow Brock Vickers follows up his turn as the cad Willoughby in SENSE & SENSIBILITY with a terrific turn as the villainous Julian. Vickers seems to relish every nasty aspect of the character—yet manages to get his share of the laughs as well. It’s a solid performance.
A former Hedgerow Fellow, Director Castellan has paced his production well. COMMUNICATING DOORS is a delicate balancing act between farce and thriller, and Castellan never tips the scales too far in one direction. Nor were there any “traffic jams” onstage—he makes wonderful use of Zoran Kovcic’s lovely neutrally-toned hotel room set. Hedgerow has managed to fit a sitting room, a hint of the bedroom and a bath on their intimate gristmill’s stage! And the “magical” communicating door is set up very nicely as well. The action is appropriately lit by Jared Reed—great time travel effects. And John Tiedeck’s sound design sets the mood perfectly, as well as supporting the time warps nicely. Cathy Miglionico has assembled some terrific costumes for all—although I would have liked a kinkier ensemble on Poopay at the start. But maybe that’s just me….
The interesting thing about Ayckbourn’s play is that, while it’s making you laugh and have a great time, it gets you thinking about your past: if you could, what would you go back in time to change? By using the magic of the connecting door, these three women change their own fates in an incredible way. Wouldn’t we all jump at a chance to do that? I know I would. And it was very empowering to see the ladies in charge for a change. Girl Power! If you’re looking for a fun night of fantasy and laughs to usher in the fall season, go see COMMUNICATING DOORS. It’s a terrific production.
by Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Liam Castellan
September 4—October 5, 2014
64 Rose Valley Road
Media, PA 19063