RLT’s production of “Communicating Doors,” written by English playwright Sir Alan Ayckbourn in 1994, tells the story of Poopay—a British, “special sexual consultant”—who is hired to service a man named Reece and then travels through time to save Reece’s wives from his murderous companion, Julian. It takes place entirely in a hotel room where Poopay, and later Reece’s wives, Jessica and Ruella, transport themselves through a rotating closet door between 2023, 2003, and 1983. The end result, without giving too much away, is perhaps an homage to the strength of women when bonded together.
Dieudonne has a strong stage presence as the murderous Julian and David Gannon handles hotel staffer, Harold, with comedic aplomb.
The challenges in this production unfortunately started not long after the curtain rose. In the first scene, the audience is introduced to the core characters of Poopay (Gemma Davimes), Reece (Donta Hensley), and Julian (David Dieudonne). As Reece explains what has happened in his life—and the murders of his wives (played by Kat Binney and Erica Irving)—the audience strains to make out much of what was said due to Hensley’s overhanded take at a British accent.
This is science fiction theatre, but director Tristan Poje leans way too much into the “Twilight Zone” in this production. The main hotel room closet—one of many doors to facilitate communication, crafted by Set Designer John Decker—is a key plot device for Ayckbourn’s play, but Poje and Lighting Designer Steve Deming pair every transport through time with flashing lights. You know time travel is happening thanks to Deming’s projections in the background of the play, but this adds an unnecessary, over-the-top element to the story.
The acting was fine. Dieudonne has a strong stage presence as the murderous Julian and David Gannon handles hotel staffer Harold with comedic aplomb. The female characters, unfortunately, were not as strong. It makes one wonder how the evening would have turned out with a female director bringing out the central aspect of this play—that women, bandied together, can overcome the hierarchical, male-dominated structure of our past.
That vision, along with other technical aspects of this show, unfortunately did not come to fruition. Jennifer Morrissey and Becky Bucci’s clearly have fun with the costume design, between Poopay’s dominatrix outfit and Julian’s sharp and murderous look, but do little with Gannon’s Harold. Yet, later in the production, when Jessica comes out in a mask, the audio was terrible. It was again difficult to hear the dialogue in the second act when Reece’s wives are facing away from the audience while confronting Julian in a climactic scene.
“Communicating Doors” clearly leans into its central motif of time travel. Pop classics such as Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time” and Huey Lewis’s “Back in Time” are played during intermission and as the show closes. However, the script would have been better served with less travel and more plot development so the audience cared more about the women at the center of this show. That was the brilliance of time travel classics such as “Star Trek” and “Back to the Future.” Amidst the teleportations and the flying cars, we connected with the characters. Hopefully some of the technical challenges will be addressed as the run continues, but in Ayckbourn’s play and this uneven production, we are not given a reason to to understand why the outcome matters.
Running Time: Two hours and 25 minutes with one intermission.
“Communicating Doors” runs through October 1, 2023, at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, 603 Edmonston Drive, Rockville, MD 20851. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets ($22 for adults; $20 for students and seniors). For more information and tickets, go online.