Such a compelling beginning for the new play, Ring Twice for Miranda. Written by playwright Alan Hruska (Laugh It Up, Stare It Down as the Cherry Lane Theatre, 2015), the first scene fills us with a lot of questions and intrigue. Pieces of a puzzle that will slowly begin to make sense as the playwright gives hints and clues moving forward. This is one of those plays where the less you know the infinitely better it is. There is a fairly obvious structure of master and servant from the get-go. A play centered on some sort of power dynamic between the master of the house, referred to only as ‘Sir’ (an enigmatic Graeme Malcolm), his right hand man, the gruff and seemingly powerful Gulliver (a text book suspicious thug in a suit, Daniel Pearce) and the two employees sitting at a long table in the servant’s hall whittling away the hours.
There is a wall of servant call bells, straight out of “Downton Abbey” (ingenious and fun work by scenic designer: Jason Sherwood; costume designer: Ann Hould-Ward; lighting designer: Matthew Richards – I only wish they had the money to motorize that murphy bed). The house bells are used to call the desired servant to task at any given moment. One for Gulliver. Two for Miranda. And three for the butler. Miranda (a lively and engaging Katie Kleiger), the pretty but frustrated maid, is trying to make a house of cards before finally giving up and playing, not surprisingly, solitaire, as the gallant bored butler, Elliot (an endearing and sweet George Merrick) gazes at her adoringly. With very little to do in the household and some unknown abstract danger outside those brick walls, these two seem anxious and uncomfortable. They wonder if they are expendable or required. They are not only servants, lorded over by the master and his sleazy assistant, but basically prisoners in this ‘sanctuary’ whose very walls keep them safe and warm. Something has happened out there beyond the safe compound where they live. Something scary and unnerving. Something that has uprooted civilization, but it seems that ‘Sir’ provides them with temporary safety, but not security. It also appears that he possibly has played a major role in the global downturn.
Ring Twice by Miranda, as directed by Rick Lombardo (Albatross) is an exploration of power and tyranny in some sort of post-apocalyptic world. It investigates what happens when a delusional narcissistic leader, void of empathy and compassion, has the ability and power to affect the way our civilized world operates. It’s not surprising that this play is finding a voice today. Quite relevant in the hopelessness that many are feeling as we watch the news inside our liberal NYC walls. We can align ourselves quite easily with the two very appealing characters as they fortify themselves against the unknown fears. And struggle along side them, as they both try to keep in touch with their humanity and care for each other while balancing their basic instinctual human survival tactics.
Comradery, loyalty, and competition for resources all come into play as these two come in to contact with others who are also desperately trying to survive, namely the wandering couple, Chester (William Connell) and Anouk (Talia Thiesfield). These two seem like exaggerated and negative mirror images of the two lost souls that we have come to care about. Connell and Thiesfield overdo these roles, camping it up as if they are from some other type of play, maybe a farce or vaudevillian comedy. They feel out of place in comparison to the others who are giving us centered and realistic approaches to the dystopian world they find themselves in.
When Felix (the solid and surprisingly layered Ian Lassiter) enters into the fray, faith and trust in others has become tenuous at best. Has he come to rescue them, or return them to some sort of prison where compassion, freedom, and liberty are set-aside for something else? Is he describing the dangerous new world order or manipulating them with scary monster stories? The problem with Ring Twice for Miranda is what happens after that turning point. All that work from the main players in the power struggle, Elliot and Miranda trying to hold onto their humanity against ‘Sir’, keeping the tension in a place of mystery and realism, starts to fall away as secrets and dynamics are revealed. The reactions of others, as written, are generally believable, but the one big reveal doesn’t make as much sense at it should to really power home the conclusion. Coupled with the two actors from the British farce that have wandered into this “Mockingjay” world, the second half fails to shed light on the dynamic. It disappoints, leaving us as lost as those two servants must have felt out on the streets. Is there a bigger theme that Hruska was going for, or are we left to struggle with the same feelings of hopelessness and futility as Miranda and Elliot are, and as we are day after day in our own hard-to-believe post-election world? The house of cards is crumbling.
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