Time travel is one of literature’s most durable, recurrent fantasies. Adjacent to immortality and closely allied to omnipotence, it springs from a magical faith in the fundamental interchangeability of space and time. Imagine if moving through space could somehow enable you to turn back — or forward — the clock. Where would you go? What would you do?
This idea forms the premise of Alan Ayckbourn’s Communicating Doors, the comedy/thriller that opens March 2 at Santa Barbara City College’s Garvin Theatre. An aging roué, Reece (Matt Smith), orders a sex worker up to his hotel room, only to substitute confession for coition. It seems he has participated in plotting the death of two of his wives. The hired woman, Poopay (Felicia Hall), understandably upset by these revelations, winds up becoming the killer’s next target and only manages to escape by fleeing through the hotel room’s communicating door, which leads, as it turns out, not to another suite in the hotel but rather back to the same room 20 years before. There she joins forces with Ruella (Leslie Gangl Howe) and eventually with Jessica (Brittany Harter), the victims of Reece’s assistant Julian (George Coe), in a madcap race through time — and those doors — to see if they can stop the slaughter not only from continuing but also from happening in the first place.
Working in meticulously coached British accents, the cast will confront an evening-length obstacle course of rapid-fire changes both onstage and off. For director Katie Laris, it’s an opportunity to revel in theater’s ability to put characters in “circumstances beyond their imagining,” yet without losing their fundamental humanity. “The show is quite genuine despite its fantasy elements,” said Laris. “There’s a lot of heart in this piece, and at the same time it provides amusement through the comedy action; it’s really about human friendship — the capacity to show courage and kindness, and to connect with another person. It’s not a romantic show, but it is about falling in love, the kind of love that’s based in appreciating another person for who they are.”
Fans of the area theater scene will relish the chance to see Leslie Gangl Howe back at the Garvin, where she has turned in some of her most memorable performances. Those inclined to track potential rising stars of the Santa Barbara stage should take an interest in Felicia Hall, a San Marcos High alum who is making her Garvin debut after several successful appearances at the San Luis Obispo Rep and the Cambria Center for the Arts Theatre.
Playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s name will be familiar to fans of contemporary British theater, where he has been a prolific author and director since the early 1960s. He has written more than 70 plays, 40 of which were produced either at the National Theater or in the West End. His peak of renown came in the 1970s, with Absurd Person Singular (1975) and the Norman Conquests trilogy, beginning in 1973. Although Ayckbourn often suffered in critical comparison alongside writers such as Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard, both of whom were considered to be more “serious,” in recent years that consensus has crumbled as new generations read and perform his work. What was once seen as predictable, “light” subject matter — the manners and mores of middle-class married people — has grown in stature as more and more appreciation has been shown for the craft with which Ayckbourn constructs his plots. This play, which debuted at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, England, where Ayckbourn was at the time the artistic director, eventually transferred to the West End and Broadway, and it ought to make a great fit for the talented team at SBCC.
Communicating Doors previews Wednesday-Thursday, February 28-March 1, 7:30 p.m., and shows Friday, March 2-Saturday, March 17 (Thu.-Sat.: 7:30pm; Sun.: 2pm), at SBCC’s Garvin Theatre (721 Cliff Dr.). Call 965-5935 or visit theatregroupsbcc.com.