by Susan Hasho
Ring Twice for Miranda is a combination of “Upstairs Downstairs” and “War of the Worlds.” The play opens with a large dinner table in the servant quarters facing a wall of service bells in what must be a huge mansion. Seated at the table are a maid Miranda and butler Elliot discussing how many rings of the bell involve which of them and what their jobs are and aren’t and what their boss Sir wants from them. And, how boring it all is there, that there’s nothing to do. It is clear that Sir has some sort of mysterious task he requests from Miranda. One can guess. There is a majordomo named Gulliver in charge of the logistics of running the house. He fires Elliot because Elliot has nothing to do. There is mention of other staff which we never see that are handling “whatever’s needed.”
The atmosphere of emptiness, of the overriding authority of Sir, and the rudderless butler, left jobless and desperate, set up the play well. Miranda decides to leave with Elliot. And we get a good helping of what has happened to the world “outside.” As Gulliver says to Miranda, “…what’s really happening outside. Or, even more to the point, how people who matter can make happen whatever they want.” Miranda tries to talk to Sir and get Elliot his job back. Sir oversees the whole “district” and is a self-described inhuman person. He has no interest in helping anyone only in “shaking things up now and then.” He lets Miranda go along with Elliot saying “You’re really going to go outside?! Surely not.”
So outside they go. They find empty broken-down buildings and no sense of freedom. The people have fled. There is no source of transportation and the stillness is frightening. Until Chester appears in a sports car. And Anouk appears behind him insisting on finding gas. Miranda knows where to find gas she says and bargains for a seat in the car. Chester intends to pay for everything with prescription drugs. And because there’s a lot of talk about who gets left out, when and how, Miranda sends Chester to Gulliver for gas because she knows he will want the drugs, and the girl—leaving her alone with Elliot again. They have each other and they still have the luggage. Dark and cold scares them, sounds in the dark surround them until Felix appears. He points out the solar eclipse and introduces himself as a plumber. He gives information about where all the people have gone and paints a hopeless picture of starvation, cannibalism and “exodus.” He has actually been sent by Sir to get Miranda back. She won’t go without Elliot.
They arrive at the house to find Chester and Anouk have taken their jobs. Anouk has tried to replace Miranda in Sir’s bedroom but she doesn’t understand how to please Sir. And it is still unclear exactly what Miranda does for Sir. Sir has Gulliver dismiss Chester and Anouk. And finally, Miranda goes up to see Sir. We find out what it is she does (no full disclosure here, see the play).
Sir replaces reliable, but ambitious Gulliver with Felix. He needs to shake things up, again. But Miranda is allowed to keep Elliot. They discuss leaving. But after all is said and done, “they don’t move. …They’re frozen. …And the rings go on…”
The actors fit into this nihilistic dystopian scenario well but it is like watching a straight jacket being slowly strapped up. The plot is too slight to justify the length of the play. Graeme Malcolm as Sir is appropriately sly and grand; Daniel Pearce as Gulliver is at once patronizing and unctuous. Katie Kleiger as Miranda is a smart, compassionate survivor of all trades and perfect. George Merrick as Elliot is charming as a mix of sweet and inept. Ian Lassiter as Felix, Talia Thiesfield as Anouk and William Connell as Chester carry out their roles well. The playwright Alan Hruska has strong feelings about his subject, but the play doesn’t provide characters deep enough to communicate his message, witty though they may be. However, the director Rick Lombardo has given the actors a good realistic base that serves to give grounding to the darkly absurd situation that unfolds.
Limited engagement Jan 24-Apr 16
Ticket Info www.NYCCenter.org
New York City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th Street, NYC 212-581-1212
131 West 55 Street – NYC
Photos: Russ Rowland