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Closed 'Doors'

[whitespace] Communicating Doors
Tom Chargin

In a Door Jam: J. Michael Flynn and Lesley Fera take a trip in 'Communicating Doors.'

'Communicating Doors' at San Jose Rep conceals only clichés

By Michael J. Vaughn

THE UNSETTLING feeling walking out of Alan Ayckbourn's Communicating Doors is that you've just been suitably entertained--thrilled a little, made to laugh a little--but at a certain cost to your soul. If you count up the elements, you'll find that the play is not much more than a raspberry smoothie of clichés plucked from time travels, murder mysteries and farces past and thrown into a blender with some wheat germ. Though San José Repertory Theatre gives the play a polished production, complete with a rare star turn by artistic director Timothy Near, the results still fail to provide any lasting nutritional value.

Things begin when British dominatrix Phoebe (Lesley Fera) is called in for an "assignment" with a surprisingly elderly client, Reece Wells (James Carpenter). Reece surprises Phoebe further by requesting that she witness and deliver a signed confession, in which he admits to arranging the murder of his wives Jessica and Ruella at the hands of his right-hand man, Julian (J. Michael Flynn). (For reasons of economy, I will continue the plot summary with clichés marked by asterisks.) Julian's a rather quiet, lurking evil-genius type* who chases Phoebe into a cupboard that turns out to be some kind of time portal.* She re-enters the same room, only 20 years in the past (our present), tiptoes across the dark interior to the spooky tick-tick of claves* and is soon found out by Reece's still-alive ex-wife Ruella (Near), who immediately alerts the hotel's ineffectual house detective* (Michael Butler).

Phoebe tells Ruella her story, Ruella questions Phoebe's sobriety,* after which she tries to calm her down with some exaggerated deep-breathing exercises.* Then Phoebe lets slip some amusing bits of knowledge from the year 2019* (A video store? Who even owns a video these days?). Much later, someone ends up dangling out the window by her bed sheets,* and two other characters, in their gyrations to hang on to her, end up in what looks like a compromising sexual position* (last seen in Ken Ludwig's Moon Over Buffalo).

Despite some admirable performances--notably Near's eminently likable Ruella, Fera's stress-bunny Phoebe and Flynn's decidedly spooky Julian--Ayckbourn's Sahara-dry dialogue fell flat all night, except for a political reference that three Brits in the back row evidently found hilarious. Other nice touches were Todd Roehrman's costumes--particularly Phoebe's many-winged patent-leather dominatrix gear--and Scott Weldin's set, featuring a charming London nightscape and a fully operational hotel bathroom. You can't rewrite a script onstage, however, and in playing it safe with the ever-popular Ayckbourn the Rep has wasted some valuable stage time. Ayckbourn's work is often described as "clever," a word that many writers take as an insult meaning "passionless"--and that certainly applies here.

Communicating Doors plays through July 4 at the San José Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Tickets are $16-$32. (408/291-2255)

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From the June 17-23, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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