More Than Zero

There really isn't much of a play to Alan Ayckbourn's Communicating Doors.A hotel room in London somehow becomes a kind of wormhole, allowing three very different women and one dastardly man to jump backward or forward in time in 20-year increments. The better part of two hours is taken up by the women's attempts to alert one another that their association with that bad man may wind up killing them all.

It's kind of clever, if your idea of time travel never quite graduated beyond Captain James T. Kirk in Prohibition-era Chicago. But aside from the time-travel hook, there really isn't a whole lot here. It's not rib-splittingly funny or intellectually stimulating. There's more talk than action. It's saddled by ludicrous leaps of logic, and its plot is tenuous at best.

Why, then, is this show so flat-out enjoyable?

Blame director Andrew Barnicle, his rather excellent cast, and a bunch of designers who obviously know what they're doing. This is a sterling example of a cast and crew taking a slight play and making it seem as if it's the most important thing you could possibly be watching.

Maybe it's an English thing. While local stage vets Howard Shangraw and Tom Shelton are typically enjoyable and relative newcomer Tim Monsion (Julian) is a surprisingly complex bad guy, this play belongs to the two female leads, both of whom hail from London: Deanne Mercer Dennis' tough-as-hardtack-on-the-outside-but-soft-as-room-temperature-ice-cream-on-the-inside Ruella and Helen Wassell's eminently likable Phoebe. (Dea Lawrence, the third member of the female troika, never rises above her platinum fawn role—a peculiar victim, in this instance, of the thin script.)

Wassell is particularly watchable, and not only because she spends most of the first act in bondage gear and knee-high boots. As the dominatrix from 2020 who first realizes the sinister goings-on as well as the time-bending properties of the hotel room she has been invited to, Phoebe is the play's catalyst and its glue. And Wassell is eminently enjoyable in both capacities. She's complicated, vulnerable, sensual and smart. It's difficult to take your eyes off her.

The actors had better be watchable in a play like this: even slightly off-key performances would make for a tedious affair. Thankfully, everything in this production works, rescuing the feckless Ayckbourn script from itself.

Communicating Doors at the Laguna Playhouse's Moulton Theatre, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-ARTS; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 N 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 N 7 p.m. Through March 25. $31-$40.

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