BWW Reviews: Alley Theatre's COMMUNICATING DOORS is Mildly Suspenseful and Wholly Interesting

BWW Reviews: Alley Theatre's COMMUNICATING DOORS is Mildly Suspenseful and Wholly Interesting
(Left to Right) Josie de Guzman as Ruella and
Julie Sharbutt as Phoebe. Photo by John Everett.

When it comes to describing Alan Ayckbourn's 1994 play COMMUNICATING DOORS, the Internet proudly boasts that the science fiction comedy exists at the crossroads of Back to the Future and Hitchcock. Does the Alley Theatre's stalwart and clever production live up to that assessment? In my opinion, not really. Nevertheless, it comes incredibly close to meeting that lofty mark.

While a comedy, COMMUNICATING DOORS is a gentle rib-tickler and not a laugh-a-minute riot. Alan Ayckbourn relies heavily on cheeky British humor for his intriguing play, which occasionally lapses into the world of farce. At the top of the show, Phoebe, a dominatrix and prostitute, who goes by Poopay, arrives at a swank London hotel suite. It is the year 2034, and she believes she has been called to fulfill the fantasies of an aging client named Reece. Yet, Reece has other plans in mind. He actually wants her to witness and sign his final confessions, which detail how Reece had his two wives murdered by his ruthless business partner, Julian. Before long, Phoebe finds herself in the space between the communicating doors that connect adjacent suites. When she exits she discovers she has traveled to the same suite she left, just 20 years in the past. As the plot trips and tumbles through time, Phoebe and Reece's two wives work together to try and put a stop to each of the three women's murders.

With a clear purpose, Gregory Boyd directs the piece to highlight Alan Ackybourn's theme of how we all wish we could rewrite at least a part of our lives. Unfortunately, as an audience, we have to sit through lengthy exposition and scenes that seem to repeat information we already have to get to this thought-provoking and even tender realization. Yet, Gregory Boyd rises to the challenge and presents us with sufficient action and thoughtful characterizations to keep us entertained enough to want to know what will happen next.

As Ruella, Josie de Guzman becomes the unexpected hero of the production. As Reece's second wife, her character is set in October 2014. Naturally, she disbelieves Phoebe upon meeting her, but once the logic of the scenario sets in, it is her brains that best grapple with the trippy puzzle and makes sense of how each of the women can adequately work together to save each other. With a keen wit and a plucky demeanor, Josie de Guzman makes Ruella a character the audience can't help but adore.

BWW Reviews: Alley Theatre's COMMUNICATING DOORS is Mildly Suspenseful and Wholly Interesting
Julie Sharbutt as Phoebe. Photo by Mike McCormick.

Making her Alley Theatre debut, Julie Sharbutt is quite comical as the spunky prostitute Phoebe. At the beginning of the show, she is incredibly frank. Never mincing a word, she lands many laughs that feel gimmicky because of her character's chosen profession. In discussing her home life and childhood she introduces the characters to a dystopian vision of London circa 2034 and lays the groundwork for the play's touching and heartfelt finale.

As brought to life by Melissa Pritchett, Reece's first wife, Jessica, is ditzy and altogether naïve. She is enjoying the suite during May 1994, while on honeymoon with Reece when Ruella enters through the communicating door turned time portal. Jessica doesn't get the opportunity to grow before our eyes in the ways that Ruella and Phoebe do; however, she does get to show surprising strength at a pivotal moment, and Melissa Pritchett handles both extremes of the character well.

Harold, the house detective, is hilariously hapless and helpful, often in the same breath. Todd Waite skillfully uses his tried-and-true comedic charms to bring the character to life while amusing the audience with ease.

The intimidating Julian, played perfectly by James Black, gets the hearts of the audience racing with his tangible menace.

Jeffrey Bean believably plays the aged and decrepit Reece of 2034 and the younger Reece of 1994.

Scenic Design by Linda Buchanan is wonderfully versatile and sumptuous. The play opens in 2034, and the suite she has designed looks beautiful, elegant, and has trappings of the futuristic. However, as the plot jumps to 2014 and 1994, those futuristic elements serve to make the suite look all the more posh and expensive.

Michael Lincoln's Lighting Design is moody and atmospheric, bringing tonal weight to the more Hitchcockian moments of the play. Using lots of blues and greens, his design compliments Judith Dolan's Costume Design in giving the show that damsels fumbling in the dark in their nightgowns aura.

The pace of the play never gallops, even when the production's tensions are at their most dangerous, but this cast and Gregory Boyd manipulates and massages the script to keep the plot mildly suspenseful and wholly interesting from beginning to end. COMMUNICATING DOORS is in no way the best play I've even seen, but it is far from the worst. At the bottom line, it is a generally fun and enjoyable time-tripping adventure.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 28 minutes with one intermission.

COMMUNICATING DOORS, produced by the Alley Theatre, runs on the Hubbard Stage at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Avenue, Houston 77002 now through April 27, 2014. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.alleytheatre.org or call (713) 220-5700.

Photos courtesy of the Alley Theatre.

high res photos

BWW Reviews: Alley Theatre's COMMUNICATING DOORS is Mildly Suspenseful and Wholly Interesting
Julie Sharbutt as Phoebe. Photo by Mike McCormick.

BWW Reviews: Alley Theatre's COMMUNICATING DOORS is Mildly Suspenseful and Wholly Interesting
Melissa Pritchett as Jessica. Photo by Jann Whaley.

BWW Reviews: Alley Theatre's COMMUNICATING DOORS is Mildly Suspenseful and Wholly Interesting
(Left to Right) Julie Sharbutt as Phoebe and James Black as Julian. Photo by John Everett.

BWW Reviews: Alley Theatre's COMMUNICATING DOORS is Mildly Suspenseful and Wholly Interesting
(Left to Right) James Black as Julian and Julie Sharbutt as Phoebe. Photo by John Everett.

BWW Reviews: Alley Theatre's COMMUNICATING DOORS is Mildly Suspenseful and Wholly Interesting
(Left to Right) Josie de Guzman as Ruella and Julie Sharbutt as Phoebe. Photo by John Everett.

BWW Reviews: Alley Theatre's COMMUNICATING DOORS is Mildly Suspenseful and Wholly Interesting
(Left to Right) Josie de Guzman as Ruella and Julie Sharbutt as Phoebe. Photo by John Everett.

BWW Reviews: Alley Theatre's COMMUNICATING DOORS is Mildly Suspenseful and Wholly Interesting
(Left to Right) Todd Waite as Harold and Julie Sharbutt as Phoebe. Photo by John Everett.

BWW Reviews: Alley Theatre's COMMUNICATING DOORS is Mildly Suspenseful and Wholly Interesting
(Left to Right) Todd Waite as Harold and Josie de Guzman as Ruella. Photo by Jann Whaley.

BWW Reviews: Alley Theatre's COMMUNICATING DOORS is Mildly Suspenseful and Wholly Interesting
Julie Sharbutt as Phoebe. Photo by Jann Whaley.

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