COMMUNICATING DOORSby Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by – N. Ryan McBride
Set Design – N. Ryan McBride
Costume Design – Shelby Hutto
Sound Design – N. Ryan McBride
Lighting Design – Hunter Barnett
Prop Design – Erynn Michelle, Violet Goforth, N. Ryan McBride
Stage Manager – Violet Goforth
Greg Phillips – Reece
Lynsey Hale – Jessica
Crys Kelly – Ruella
Adam Kullman – Julian
Natalie Johnson – Poopay/Phoebe
Gary Payne – Harold
Reviewed Performance: 4/6/2018
Reviewed by Carol M. Rice, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
N. Ryan McBride’s beautiful and highly detailed hotel suite set greeted the audience as we came in. The lush gold textured walls, classic painted floors, and antique furniture made it obvious that this was a room inhabited by wealthy people, so we knew where we were right from the start, even if we didn’t know WHEN we were. But more on that in a minute.
The play itself opens with Poopay arriving as the, ahem, hired help. She’s insulted when she is referred to as a prostitute, preferring to be called a “specialist,” i.e. a dominatrix. She is let in (note that I didn’t say welcomed) by the surly Julian, and their immediate dislike for each other is more than apparent. Poopay is as cheery as she can be to her client while maintaining an air of suspicion as to the circumstances in which she’s been hired, while Julian sneers rudely as he lets his boss/friend know she’s arrived. We then meet Reece, who is a cantankerous old man on his deathbed. Once Julian leaves, we find out that Reece has no interest in bedding Poopay, but instead needs her signature witnessing a document in which he admits to various crimes throughout his life. And just like that, we are drawn in.
Natalie Hope Johnson portrays Poopay with both toughness and vulnerability that makes her extremely likeable. She doesn’t play her as a stereotypical “hooker with a heart of gold.” but rather as a brave, intelligent woman who happens to have had some tough breaks. Her growth as a character throughout the play is magical to watch in Ms. Johnson’s capably talented hands, and I look forward to seeing her in more shows throughout the Metroplex.
Adam Kullman doesn’t have a lot to work with when it comes to the one-dimensional Julian. He’s a bad guy – we get it. Kullman gets to be creepily menacing and scary, and that’s about it, but at least he does it well. The only thing that didn’t work regarding his performance is that he really didn’t seem to be any older in his original timeline, physically or via makeup, than he was in the one 20 years earlier. This was an overall problem with those who were in multiple timelines, though.
The one exception to this was Greg Phillips as Reece. Mr. Phillips had what I consider the hardest role to pull off, and he definitely made the most of it. As a dying 70 year old at the beginning of the play, he was grumpy and feeble, and while we didn’t QUITE believe him later on as a spry 30 year old on his honeymoon, he gave it his best shot and at least showed us a very different side of the character. It was as the kinder, gentler 70 year old Reece at the end where Phillips really shined, though, treating us to a massively contrasting performance completely dissimilar from either of the other two. He truly does an outstanding job in this play.
Like Kullman, Lynsey Hale as Jessica also suffers from a lack of change in her 20 year time difference, not only in her acting but most noticeably her asymmetrical haircut, which would have worked well in one time or the other, but not both, and her makeup also doesn’t seem to age over time. That aside, Ms. Hale portrays Jessica with a peppy quirkiness that is fun to watch.
Crys Kelly plays Ruella, one of the few characters who doesn’t age forwards or backwards, and she does so with a huge amount of charisma and personality. Ruella is clearly used to getting her way and is not very happy in her marriage as it is, so the introduction of Poopay into her life is a welcome change (and not just because she ends up not dying). Even though we don’t see much of her evolution as a character, we hear about it and see the effects at the end of the play, and Ms. Kelly does a nice job of hinting of things that are in the works when we last see her. She gives a powerful, thoroughly enjoyable performance.
Gary Payne as security guard Harold provides some much-needed comic relief, but once again, we don’t see any age differences during the 20-year span in which his character is seen. I can see his wearing the same uniform (that’s funny) but his hair color, makeup, and even glasses don’t seem to change, either. This lack of detail when it came to the age differences of various characters in different times was one of the biggest problems I had with an otherwise solid production.
Shelby Hutto does a nice job overall with the costume design (although Kullman’s first suit was ill-fitting – pants a little too short and jacket way too roomy), especially of the women. I enjoyed the casual elegance of Ruella’s outfits stacked against the sluttiness of Poopay’s “work clothes” and the uniqueness of Jessica’s various costumes. Props by Erynn Michelle, Violet Goforth, and McBride seemed appropriate and functional.
Mr. McBride wore many hats in the making of Communicating Doors. In addition to his role with props and his exceptional set design, he also served as director and sound designer. The sound design in the first act was a bit distracting. I couldn’t tell at first if the theatre building itself was making weird noises or if the random sounds I was hearing were intentional, and I finally figured out that they were apparently intentional. Other than this strange ambience that didn’t quite work, his choice of music and sound effects were well-chosen. In tandem with Hunter Barnett’s lights, the “time travel” sequences worked pretty well but seemed too long, especially towards the end of Act I when there were several in a row, and they seemed to drag the pace down. Barnett’s lights also seemed to be having some arbitrary flashing issues on opening night, but hopefully those have been corrected. I did like all the practical lamps used onstage, as they gave the space a very warm and homey feel.
Wearing his director hat, Mr. McBride largely did Ayckbourn’s script proud, although I always hate when a British script is Americanized. Some of the phrases just don’t flow right. And one of my biggest issues with the show is the script itself, as Julian is able to go through time after the ladies have already established that they can’t make it happen. Definitely a plot flaw. The actors make it work, but it definitely left me scratching my head.
There were a few places that seemed to drag here and there, but I can easily attribute that to opening night jitters. Runway still presents a fine production of a deceptively difficult play. The extremely well-cast actors do a wonderful job of bringing Communicating Doors to life under McBride’s able direction, and if you’ve never seen an Alan Ayckbourn play, you won’t go wrong with this one.
215 N. Dooley St.
Grapevine, TX 76051
Runs through April 22.
Actual days: Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sunday at 3:00 pm
Tickets are $17-20.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to http://www.runwaytheatre.com/ or call the box office at 817-488-4842.