The creative energy that transports theatergoers to alternate realities is pulsing inside the Laurel Mill Playhouse, where the post-apocalyptic comedy, “Another Door Opens” by Jeff Dunne dives at least 25,000 years into the future.
A physicist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory by day, Dunne finished rewrites of the scifi script in 2016; it was performed as a stage reading by the Baltimore Playwrights Festival the following year.
Dunne, who started out penning children’s plays for the APL Drama Club to perform in 2015, already has numerous one-acts, five full-length plays and several screenplays under his belt.
Black Carpet Productions, a D.C.-based production company, currently has a film version of “Another Door Opens” in the works.
Produced here by Maureen Rogers and directed by Rick Bergmann, Dunne’s script blends an unusual mix of comedic devices and references inspired by mathematics and technology, history, psychology, classic literature and 1950s American television in a tale about an artificial intelligence and two androids attempting to resurrect human life post-nuclear annihilation.
Bergmann cleverly introduces Artificial Intelligence as a presence in the pre-show and has assembled an engaging cast to portray three artificial characters and (literally) bring four human characters to life.
A.L.I.C.E. (Artificial Life In A Computational Environment), portrayed sight unseen by Jane Steffen, aims to run a human breeding program on a planet that she has accidentaly destroyed. Steffen delivers a savvy performance in the role, gradually sounding less like Amazon’s Alexa in Act 1 and almost human (even maternal) by play’s end.
Dunne modeled A.L.I.C.E.’s sidekick, the android Ralph (played by Rasheed Williams), after the brash personality of Jackie Gleason’s iconic character (Ralph Kramden, whose wife was named Alice) from the classic television comedy, “The Honeymooners.”
Costumed as the bus driver, Williams is beautifully bombastic and handles some challenging moments with delightful facial expressions and excellent physicality.
A.L.I.C.E.’s other android helper, Whitney (Raven T. Hall), is the nervous White Rabbit from “Alice in Wonderland” in costume and in character. Hall’s consistently frenetic movements, hilarious pantomime and brisk pace suit her character and the plot to a tee.
As the lights rise on a dingy grunge set designed by Bermann, Gary Heath and Brittany Ramsbottom that represents a decayed shelter, radiation warning symbols on the black walls appear to have begun to melt sometime in the past.
Under Alice’s supervision, Ralph and Whitney are engaged in reviving Patient 49,374. Paul Hastings (Ken Krintz), an architect and the most “normal” character in the show, has been in cryostasis sleep for almost 25,000 years.
As Paul, Krintz presents a handsome and likable hero who remembers the nuclear explosions that made the earth uninhabitable, and especially what it means to be human. And though the actor’s timing felt a bit off opening night (likely due to line struggles), it detracted little from a striking performance.
The second human to enter (after being revived offstage), Abbey is the ditsy, but “not blonde” accountant who wisens up by play’s end. Portrayed by Beth Bell, she also nails her character with wonderful energy.
Next up is Kenneth (Kevin A. Wilson). Suffering from multiple personality disorder, Kenneth summons Xena (the warrior princess), Sherlock Holmes, Bort (an extra-terrestrial tourist) and an over-sexed, gender-indeterminate personality at unexpected moments in a fun role that allows the actor to strut an impressive acting range.
Last, but hardly least, is Ruby (Ramsbottom), a bitter young computer hacker who engages in a rebellion with A.L.I.C.E. that reeks of mommy issues on steroids. Ramsbottom’s tattered goth costume is outstanding, and her performance — particularly when she puts her survival at peril by cheekily defying A.L.I.C.E. — was the opening night standout.
How the team of four survivors plot to outfox A.L.I.C.E. and escape the shelter is a hilarious, satirical journey to a new world.
Always witty, “Another Door Opens” runs long and could benefit from some trimming to tighten the pace and rhythm, but the Playhouse cast and crew do an awesome job of performing the ambitious piece.
“I love what the actors and director have brought to the show; I couldn’t ask for more as a playwright,” Dunne said. “This has been a golden experience.”
“Another Door Opens” continues through Sunday, Jan. 20, Laurel Mill Playhouse, 508 Main St., with Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m.; and matinee performances Jan. 13 and 20 at 2 p.m. General admission is $20; students 12 and under and seniors 65 and over, $15. For tickets, go to laurelmillplayhouse.org.