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Stretching time and imagination through 'Communicating Doors'

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The Colonial Players troupe is opening its 65th season with an invitation for audiences to embark on an adventure of new voices and broad horizons — namely a time travel adventure written by prolific British master of farce, Alan Ayckbourn.

"Communicating Doors" is a daring departure from Ayckbourn's comedy, "Taking Steps," which closed Colonial Players' previous season. The show asks us to suspend disbelief — or at least stretch it to accept what may be possible through time travel.

The premise of altering historical events in our favor seems illogical, but Ayckbourn mostly manages to convince us by building upon a series of confusing improbabilities.

Making good use of the signature slamming-door component of farce, Ayckbourn flings wide open these "Communicating Doors" to reveal limitless possibilities.

This comic mystery takes place in a suite of hotel rooms in 2014, 1994 and 1974.

Professional dominatrix Poopay is asked by an ill, elderly client, Reece, to sign as a witness and — before he dies — deliver to his lawyers a confession of his terrible deeds, which include the murders of his first and second wives by his menacing partner, Julian.

When she herself is attacked by Julian, Poopay escapes into a hidden room from which she surprisingly emerges 20 years earlier. Here she meets Reece's second wife, Ruella, and together they struggle to understand what will happen if they fail to stop this historical chain of events. The two then time-travel even farther back to encounter first wife, Jessica, on her 1974 honeymoon.

It sounds confusing, but Ayckbourn's twisting plot is spiced with comedy to amuse the audience as it is led to a surprise turn at the end.

Director Michelle Bruno describes Ayckbourn's time-travel ride as including "redemption, humor and suspense, complicated in the delivery of a simple message of hope and perseverance."

Bruno has assembled a skilled female trio of actors — Pamela Woodward, Lilian Oben and Sarah Wade — each growing stronger in their respective roles as Poopay, Ruella and Jessica.

This is primarily a play about women. The male characters serve as little more than their foils — although Jeff Mocho as Reece appears convincingly as an ill man of 70, then loses 40 years to become a young groom on his honeymoon.

In his return to the Colonial Players' stage, Dave Carter is properly menacing as psychopathic Julian. Actor Nick Beschen brings a sharp sense of comic scene-stealing to his portrayal of bewildered security man Harold.

Colonial's president, Terry Averill, lends his expertise as set designer, and Wes Bedsworth makes time travel seem plausible and exciting through his skilled sound design.

The three female characters grow through adversity, particularly Poopay, who is almost constantly on stage and must advance from a mindless call girl to become her attacker's worthy opponent. Woodward's Poopay matches wits with Julian while conveying panic, and summons excitement and credibility as she travels via cupboard from 2014 to 1994 to embark on her life-saving mission.

Woodward's transformation from amusingly timid Poopay to compassionate warm-hearted Phoebe (her real name) is compelling, with Woodward's athleticism adding substance to the performance.

Oben makes a memorable Colonial Players debut, instantly convincing us of Ruella's honesty, decency and nonjudgmental graciousness toward her unconventional surprise visitor, Poopay. Oben brings a comedic touch when learning her deadly fate and proves an ideal comic partner to the confused Harold.

Wade is near-perfect as Reece's innocent, trusting and romantic first wife Jessica, interrupted on her honeymoon and asked to believe an outrageous prediction of her demise.

Together, this trio creates an amazing feat in which they come together as partners to prevent a six-story tumble from a hotel suite window — so skillfully executed on opening weekend to elicit the audience's prolonged applause.

"Communicating Doors" continues through Oct. 12 at Colonial Players, 108 East St., Annapolis. Call the box office at 410-268-7373 for tickets and showtimes.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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