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Time Traveling With A Sex Therapist

Jessica John in Communicating Doors

Last Sunday night, in an effort to beat the heat, I went to Cygnet Theater to see Communicating Doors . I so appreciate the presence of theaters like Cygnet in San Diego. They provide a smaller, more intimate setting and they take risks in their seasons, mounting challenging productions like last year's Bug and, early in 2007, Yellowman . The latter was directed by Esther Emery, who also directed Communicating Doors --and the two plays couldn't be more different.

First off, Communicating Doors is quite funny. I don't always laugh a lot at the theater, drawn as I am to dark, complicated, disturbing fare. Last month, I wrote about Hay Fever at the Old Globe, and while it was a comedy, it was all Noel Coward wit and style, with barbs pointed squarely at bohemian artists and high society. Communicating Doors delivers the belly laughs and is more about celebrating the absurd than satirizing. Its comedy is fast paced and the actors, under Emery's direction, have the timing nailed down. They rarely missed a beat in the show that I saw.

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What's the play about? Well, Poopay, a dominatrix/prostitute who calls herself a sex therapist meets with a client who thinks he's on the verge of death and asks her to deliver a signed confession. This starts into motion a murder plot, some time travelling, and lots of cinematic send-ups. The playwright, the knighted author of over 70 plays, Alan Ayckbourn , has described Communicating Doors as a cross between Psycho and Back To the Future. Why didn't anybody think of this earlier? McFly as Norman Bates? Hello???

How the characters can time travel in this play is never really explained, though this shouldn't bother anyone. It's enough to know that when the characters walk through a certain door, they can travel back twenty years in history to the same hotel room where the story begins. Apparently, when the play first opened in the UK in 1994, critics were obsessed with the logistics of time travel and its lack of explanation. Oh, cranky critics! Can you really get all worked up over how time travel works when it hasn't been done in reality? It's a rather silly preoccupation.

Apparently, Aychbourn was also criticized for being too entertaining, said by critics to have gone soft in this play. At the end of the day, the people spoke. Stagings of the show have been very successful and it has become one of Aychbourn's most performed plays.

A couple of other observations: veteran San Diego actresses Jessica John and Sandy Campbell were very good as Poopay and Ruella, respectively. Brenda Dodge, in the role of Jessica, was not as strong, struggling with the accent and lacking fluidity in her comic timing.

Overall, this is an entertaining night at the theater. It's not going to change your life or offer any grand insight into human behavior. It just is what it is -- smart entertainment.

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At Sunday's performance, the air conditioning struggled to combat the outrageous evening temperatures and a full house. It was hot in the theater and I expected the crowd to empty out after intermission. There was a lot of huffing and fanning of programs, but they all returned for the second act and laughed the whole way through.