Written by Alan Hruska
Directed by Rick Lombardo
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“Sometimes I think you’re delusional about having all this power. Other times I think you’ve far too much of it.” – Miranda to Sir
Alan Hruska’s new play “Ring Twice for Miranda,” currently playing at New York City Center Stage II, is starkly reminiscent of Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit” and revisits the important existential themes of choices and their consequences, appearances versus reality, self-definition and interpersonal relationships, and death and permanence. “Hell” for Mr. Hruska seems to exist in the downstairs and upstairs of Sir’s (played with a conniving grimness by Graeme Malcolm) house and the district he controls. Sir’s maid Miranda (played with a strong resilience by Katie Kleiger) and butler Elliott (played with an aggressive bashfulness by George Merrick) await his call in the servants’ quarters downstairs. The call bell rings once for Elliott and twice for Miranda.
It becomes clear quickly that Miranda serves some important function upstairs in the ailing Sir’s bedroom and that Elliott’s role in the house is not as significant. Elliott and Miranda seem to be coming off a significant relationship and the butler is quite jealous of the maid’s visits to the master’s bedchamber. Sir’s minion Gulliver (played with an arrogant indifference by Daniel Pearce) summons Elliott with one ring and sacks him. Miranda attempts to intercede for Elliott, fails, then agrees to leave the house and accompany Elliott outside. Elliott warns, “People are hungry out there, cold at night. Many are leaving” (sound familiar?) Despite that, he and Miranda leave and find ripped signs on abandoned buildings that hint at rationing and curfews and they quickly discover that indeed “the center is not holding” (Yeats) and there are few choices for them apart from surrendering to Sir’s rule.
Felix (played with the shapeshifting skills of the doppelganger by Ian Lassiter), a plumber who eventually turns out not to be a plumber, arrives to bring the pair back to the house where Miranda must “audition” for her old job. The audience discovers what it is Miranda “does” for Sir. After being rehired, Miranda returns to the servants’ quarters with Elliott with only the hope of repeating for eternity the cycle of leaving and returning, leaving and returning with no chance of finding an exit from the samsara of their existence, “just waiting for the dark, for us to go to sleep” (Miranda).
Rick Lombardo directs with a charming gracefulness and his sound design is appropriate and often unsettling. Jason Sherwood’s clever set morphs from servant’s quarters to bedchamber to the abandoned streets with ease. Matthew Richards’s lighting counterpoint’s the play’s setting with interesting plays on light and shadow.
“Ring Twice for Miranda’s” chilling dystopian themes and its delusional narcissistic Sir become even more relevant in the current political climate in America. The play raises important and enduring questions but does not have the dramatic strength to carry the weight of these rich questions. Much of the plot is predictable and at least one part of the story is dispensable. The scenes with Chester (William Connell) and Anouk (Talia Thiesfield) are superfluous with neither actor delivering especially convincing performances. The audience knows before Anouk and Chester “replace” Miranda and Elliott that Sir is not looking for sexual favors and that Sir will invite Miranda and Elliott back to the house.
That said, Mr. Hruska’s new play explores the dimensions of tyranny and the loss of personal freedom in a convincing way. Those who, like Sir, purport to place a premium on “creativity and originality” often end up doing what they must do to maintain control and supremacy over others – who are ultimately dispensable – and over circumstances in general.