LAUREL – Jeff Dunne’s “Another Door Opens” is currently playing through Jan. 20 at Laurel Mill Playhouse. Directed by Rick Bergmann, the show advertises itself as a comedy satire of the science fiction genre.
It might be more accurate to describe the show as a pastiche, providing homages to a variety of classic science fiction and fantasy works. Among these include “The Moon Is Green,” a 1952 science-fiction story by Fritz Leiber about human beings who must live their lives locked indoors long after a nuclear holocaust, and Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” episode “Five Characters in Search of An Exit,” in which characters (five in the Serling script, four in the Dunne play) find themselves appearing together under confined circumstances without knowing the why or wherefore as to how they got there. Then there is also the use of cryonics, a widely-used science fiction trope appearing in works as diverse as “Sleeper,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Star Trek,” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Also in common with “2001” is the use of a disembodied HAL-like computer, A.L.I.C.E. (“Artificial Life In a Computer Environment”), voiced by Jane Steffen; her voice is also reminiscent of the robotic female voice of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s computer on the original “Star Trek” television series.
“Another Door Opens” boasts a talented director in Bergmann, as well as a very talented cast. Of particular note is Raven T. Hall’s joyous portrayal of Whitney, an android in the form of a humanoid white rabbit who travels “down the rabbit hole” with Alice, or rather A.L.I.C.E. Brittany Ransbottom delivers a compelling portrayal of Ruby, a rebellious woman with a mysterious criminal past and a penchant for computer hacking; Rasheed Williams is also effective as Ralph, an android (and bus driver) clearly modeled on Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden character from “The Honeymooners.” Ken Krintz convincingly plays the puzzled but ever-patient Paul.
However, while the acting and direction are excellent, and the show is often quite witty, the script itself is sometimes challenging. At one point during the show, A.L.I.C.E. comments that “creativity is combining old elements in a new way.”
This is certainly true; however, this generally assumes that the recombination is done in a meaningful way to make artistic and/or thematic points. In the opinion of this reviewer, the script was filled with allusions to the Golden Age science fiction, classic fantasy such as “Alice in Wonderland,” and Cold War cultural references, but the script does not always pull these various elements together in a particularly meaningful way. For example, it is unclear exactly why Ralph is frequently telling A.L.I.C.E., “One of these days, A.L.I.C.E., POW, to the moon!” as Ralph Kramden used to tell his wife Alice on the 1950s “Honeymooners” sitcom, other than it is an allusion which many audience members will recognize.
Similarly, Director Bergmann skillfully uses a variety of 1950s musical samples, such as Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn Theme” and Charlie Parker’s “Blues for Alice,” but it is unclear how these and the above references are connected with repeated mentions of Dreamworks 2001 animated feature “Shrek,” or of Isaac Asimov and his three laws of robotics.
Little wonder that the character of Abbey at one point exclaims: “Wait! I’m lost!” She may also be lost in a whirl of allusions, though it is possible that this reviewer might have simply failed to appreciate the humor of the playfully, at times mad-cap and British-flavored (think John Cleese in “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and “I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again”). In any case, the audience indeed appeared to be enjoying the show greatly!
Laurel Mill Playhouse is a theatre known for its variety of theatrical offerings. This reviewer has seen a production of “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” there, as well as the musicals “Oliver” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” This community theatre has also performed an Agatha Christie mystery and even taken on Gilbert and Sullivan. In this context, performing an off-beat play like “Another Door Opens” is further testimony to the extraordinarily broad repertory of this interesting company. In this spirit, we eagerly look forward to reviewing the group’s next offering, in which the Laurel Mill Playhouse will stage a satire of the classic Henry Fonda film “12 Angry Men.” This production, opening in February, is entitled “12 Incompetent Jurors!”