Communicating Doors

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Alan Ayckbourn’s “Communicating Doors,” now at Pioneer Theatre Company, is a science-fiction time-travel comedy-thriller that recalls the spirit of another great British author, Douglas Adams (“Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”). It is a droll, whip-smart adventure set in 2014, where a hotel closet door takes people through time.

The first traveller is Phoebe (Cheryl Gaysunas), a dominatrix prostitute — sorry, “specialist sexual consultant” — who learns from aging corrupt businessman Reece (Traber Burns) that his first and second wives were killed by Reece’s business partner, Julian (Keith Jochim).

When Phoebe nearly becomes a third victim, she flees to the closet, which leads her to the exact same hotel suite, 20 years earlier — the night the second wife, Ruella (Kit Flanagan), was thrown off the balcony. Phoebe warns her, and the two of them endeavor to go back 20 years more to warn the first wife, Jessica (Deanne Lorette) — all while fleeing Julian, the 1994 version of whom is after Ruella and the 2014 version of whom is chasing Phoebe.

Got that?

It’s a clever premise, and there are some supremely suspenseful scenes, including one “jump” moment that elicited a scream from the opening-night audience, followed by giddy laughter.

The female characters drive the show, and Phoebe and Ruella in particular. They’re a Thelma and Louise sort of duo — resiliant, smart and occasionally terrified — and Cheryl Gaysunas and Kit Flanagan play them with great chemistry and aplomb. They are fantastic characters, portrayed in a way that makes you want to meet them and hang out with them.

Keith Jochim is quite menacing as the evil Julian, and Traber Burns plays three different versions of Reece with impressive skill. PTC regular Max Robinson is also superb as an officious hotel detective.

The finale has more resolution than it needs, and two other scenes — one where the ladies have to convince the detective to get rid of a body, and one where someone winds up hanging from a balcony — go on too long. But these are relatively minor complaints about a show that is otherwise thoroughly delightful.

Should you go? Suspense, laughter and mind-bending time-travel are a recipe for great entertainment.

It's not often a live theater production will produce titters of fright from the girls sitting behind you. Suspense is usually reserved for the movie screen, though when it's done right, the immediacy of theater can make it inifinitely more frightening. I thought the girls behind me would jump right out of their seats at one point.

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