I LIKE ALAN AYCKBOURN -- his cutting imagination has enlivened popular theatrical comedy -- but I doubt I'm the first to suggest that he often belabors the point. In his Communicating Doors, Poopay, a hapless dominatrix-for-hire in the year 2019 (Alexandra Boyd), is made privy to the murderous deeds of a psychotic rogue (J. Michael Flynn) by his guilty, twice nefariously widowed brother (Kevin Donovan). When Poopay accidentally discovers that the connecting, or "communicating," doors of the brothers' hotel suite can send her back and forth in time, she uses the information to try to save the lives of the threatened wives: a dim blonde in 1979 (Deena Burke) and a sardonic young matron in 1999 (Nike Doukas). Ayckbourn ingeniously ups the ante on door-slamming frolics, though the current ACT staging has problems covering for him when he wanes.

Doors is really just frothy British cheek, made even less substantial because Jeff Steitzer's direction doesn't fly with the breathless, free-for-all confidence of a farce. Ayckbourn's comic logic unwinds compellingly, but his conceits inspire Steitzer to throw darts at several different bulls' eyes. When the play starts gushing sentiments or slashing at us, Psycho-style, Steitzer overreacts and pulls the plug on the comedy; streams of punch lines rush by without so much as getting our feet wet. He does negotiate several very funny physical bits; I just wish it didn't all come in fits and starts.

His actors follow suit. Donovan is goosy and mannered, Burke's bimbo is game but out of tune, and Doukas' smart turn as the clever second wife is nevertheless more subdued than a play about a time-traveling hooker requires. David Pichette is good fun as the hotel's frazzled head of security, while the villainous Flynn is going for either a gay John Carradine or a butch Noel Coward, and achieves neither. As for Boyd's heroic whore, she's the only one instinctually rattling off Ayckbourn's drolleries rather than rattling around inside them. If the rest of ACT's presentation had her oomph, the evening would have accomplished much heartier comedy than just the mildly enjoyable time-killer to which we're now being treated.