The hard, sharp banging of the titular object in The Door (at 59E59 Theaters) puts the audience on edge from the moment the lights go up—it rings through the small black-box theater like a gunshot, and returns at regular and unexpected intervals. “Drives you ’round the bloody bend, doesn’t it?” asks Boyd (Tom Cobley).
“What does?” asks Ryan (Chris Westgate). And they talk about the bloody door, and other things, capitalized topics like God and War and Death and Politics. Eventually, one of them—the dialogue is interchangeable, spoken at varying points by both men—again notes how it drives you round the bloody bend, the other asks what does, and they reset. That dialogue is used like a refrain; in the verses between, we piece together who these men are (a captain and the corporal who served under him), where they are (outside an inquest), and why.
This Pinteresque two-hander is scripted by Tony Earnshaw, a Brit with a good ear for dialogue and a quiet, dry wit. The recurring repartee is a writer’s trick, but the actors resist the urge to do it winkingly. Though the characters’ class differences are drawn somewhat too broadly (between their costumes, dialects, and even reading materials, it’s a bit much), Cobley and Westgate invest the men with an indelible humanity. Both characters (and actors) keep their cool as long as possible, so when they lose it in the climax, the result is electrifying. The duo is evenly matched; Cobley wears a lifetime of disappointment on his weathered face, and Westgate’s final beat is simply extraordinary.
In the home stretch, Earnshaw’s script relies too much on convention, its concluding twist almost expected, the subsequent dialogue pro forma. The play, directed by Anna Adams, is best in the early, enigmatic scenes—it’s more compelling the less we know. But even once its secrets are revealed, The Door is a riveting, intelligent piece of work.