LET’S MAKE A DEAL Kneeland and Hakeem.
Slammed-door farces are delightful opportunities to unhinge us with laughter. But prolific British playwright Alan Ayckbourn wanted a further challenge, so his Communicating Doors has only one door to be concerned about. It closes gently, many times, but dizzying complications ensue.
With their usual buoyant ways with comedies, 2nd Story Theatre is having us bob our heads in merriment as Ed Shea directs an energetic cast (through October 23).
Although it plays as straight farce, this is also a sci-fi thriller — Alfred Hitchcock meets Philip K. Dick — and they go back in time to get rehearsal notes from Feydeau.
Everything takes place in a posh hotel room, exquisitely designed by Trevor Elliot, complete with a fancy bathroom taking a quarter of the stage just so there can be a bidet that figures in the story. (Set designers must be relieved that Ayckbourn didn't have a message hidden in the ticking gear works of Big Ben.)
The antic happenings take place not only today (2011), but in 1991 and 2031. Not in flashbacks and flash forwards, that would be too conventional. Characters go back and forward in time. Nobody murders their grandfather to see if they would never be born, and no one meets their younger or older self, though we briefly meet a septuagenarian as a young man back on his honeymoon. The skyline changes, with more, fewer, or no construction cranes, according to the date.
Since I didn't draw a diagram in my notebook with arrows going this way and that, and since Shea didn't have a flowchart projected in the background for our aid, I soon threw up my hands and enjoyed being carried along in the flow — theater as whitewater rafting. The what and when and whither don't much matter after a while, since the characters are so much fun to watch coping with confusion.
First, in the present day, we meet Reece (Wayne Kneeland), a rich old businessman who made his money the old-fashioned way, by financial manipulation. He knows somehow that he is soon going to die, and since he has just had a hooker sent up to his room, we think we know how. Phoebe (Lara Hakeem) calls herself Poopay because she never liked her name, and rather than prostitute she prefers being called a "specialist sexual consultant." Hakeem makes her a chipper, fun-loving dominatrix, with whip and tight black leather bodice.
But Reece doesn't want hanky-panky, he wants her signature as witness to a confession. He's guilty about being responsible for the deaths of his two previous wealthy wives, though it was his evil business partner Julian (Terrence Shea) who drowned one in a bathtub and threw the other out a window. Julian is a human shark, and later when he gets around to threatening other women, Shea is chillingly convincing. (Really, so sinister. Ed Shea should have him silently solicit donations at the exit.)
The only stable character here is Ruella, Reece's second wife, well played with amused resolve by Sharon Carpentier. Warned by Phoebe, Ruella counter-plots survival strategy. Also brought up to date about her tentative fate, as well as up to the present time, is Reece's first wife, Jessica, played by an intense Laura Sorensen.