Sir Alan Ayckbourn (he was knighted earlier this year) has been called 'the British Neil Simon.' That may be true, if Neil Simon ever tackled subjects like temps rising up the business ladder through murder (The Revengers' Comedies), a housewife going mad who imagines the ideal family (Woman in Mind), or how the press makes heroes of villains (Man of the Moment); all in a humorous vein, of course. In terms of creative output, Sir Alan Ayckbourn is (according to the press release) "the most prolific English dramatist since William Shakespeare," and ACT in Seattle just produced the 49th of his almost 60 plays, Communicating Doors.
ACT has described Communicating Doors as a cross between Psycho and Back to the Future, and I can't think of a better way to describe it. The play starts out in 2019 in a hotel room at the center of civil war torn London. A prostitute named Poopay is summoned to the hotel to act as a witness for the owner of the hotel, who has written a confession detailing his part in the murders of his two wives. This, of course, makes her the next target, and during her escape attempt, she finds herself twenty years in the past on the night, and in the room, where one of his wives was murdered. More I can not tell you without giving away the twists, turns, and thrills, but let's just say that it is a madcap romp through time, with equal parts chills and laughs.
The play is basically about how events can be shaped and even changed by refusing to back down and by taking your fate into your own hands. For the most part, it is a successful production. It starts off extremely slow, however, partly through the writing (way too much exposition), partly through direction (way too slow in tempo) and partly through the portrayal of the hotel owner (played way too much as a doddering old man, thus making every line take twice as long as it should). Once the fantastical elements of the show take off, however, the play accelerates and becomes the thrill ride we are used to in Sir Ayckbourn's work. This is a man, after all, who's most current work, House and Garden, consists of two plays being performed simultaneously by the same casts in two places, with the actors running from space to space.
Alexandra Boyd is marvelous as Poopay, a lost soul masquerading as a sensitive dominatrix who discovers herself through her adventures in two times. Nike Doukas is brilliant as the spine and moral center of the play; the second wife, Ruella, who is literally fighting for her life. David Pichette as the hotel security man, Harold, is a master of comic timing and takes, and J. Michael Flynn is chilling as the business partner, Julian.
Aside from the slow beginning, the direction is lively and well thought out by Jeff Steitzer, who also directed a previous Ayckbourn play at ACT, Man of the Moment. The set design by Scott Weldin was imaginative, and managed to capture a style of hotel decor which worked across the decades. Sound designer, Dominic Kramers, added greatly to the thrills, especially with underscoring that gave the show elements of Halloween and Psycho.
Overall, this was a great show for the Halloween season, providing chills and laughs mixed with social commentary and some great acting. Communicating Doors runs through November 21 at ACT, 700 Union Street in Seattle. For tickets, call the box office at 206-292-7676 or Ticketmaster, 206-292-ARTS.