Ring Twice for Miranda’s title suggests that audiences are in for a naughty Feydeau-style bedroom farce, perhaps like the one Noël Coward adapted as Look after Lulu. And, indeed, publisher and former lawyer Alan Hruska’s labored, dystopian “tragicomedy” (as its advertising calls it) includes a cute young thing named Miranda (Katie Kleiger) wearing an abbreviated French maid’s costume. There’s also a canopied set resembling a huge bed (under which an actual bed plays a part) and a white-bearded old gent named Sir (Graeme Malcolm) in a Hugh Hefner bathrobe who rings twice for Miranda via a hanging bell pull when in need of her services.
Ring Twice for Miranda has the musty air of one of those European, allegorical, politically tinged, absurdist satires of the 1950s and 1960s—think Ionesco, Sartre, Durrenmatt, Arrabal, or Frisch—but without their wit, cogency, depth, or flair. It’s set in some unnamed urban “district” governed by the calmly tyrannical Sir from the expansive bedroom of his huge, well-stocked mansion. How much of this desiccated civilization Sir controls remains undefined; we have no idea if there are other Sirs out there as well.
Something indefinite has caused civilization to crumble, food and other necessities to dry up, and the starving masses to seek survival in the warm south or cold north even though no gas or food is available. Those in Sir’s employ and living in his upstairs/downstairs mansion have their needs supplied but are at the mercy of his whims, carried out by his second in command, a smarmy, power-hungry bureaucrat named Gulliver (Daniel Pearce).
Miranda’s butler friend Elliot (George Merrick), summoned with one ring, is dismissed and the altruistic Miranda—hoping to change Sir’s mind—threatens to leave with him. Although this will deprive Sir of the highly mysterious service she performs for him, he lets her go.
Outside, stranded with too much luggage near an abandoned, graffiti-covered building, Miranda and Elliot encounter the horrible circumstances they’d only heard about. A bizarre couple pulls up in a car. He’s the brash, long-haired, Cockney-accented Chester (William Connell); she’s his vain, glammed-up Egyptian girlfriend Anouk (Talia Thiesfield). They offer to give Miranda and Elliot a lift in return for directions to a gas station.
Chester and Anouk are discovered by a wrench-wielding, so-called plumber named Felix (Ian Lassiter) who works for Sir and is something of a rival to Gulliver; he recruits the couple as replacements for Elliot and Miranda. That hapless pair returns, seeking to retake their former jobs from the incompetent usurpers. And thus we finally discover what it is that Miranda does for Sir that he finds so irreplaceable. Let’s just say it defines the meaning of anticlimax.
As in his equally problematic 2015 play Laugh It Up, Stare It Down, Hruska provides an indeterminate final curtain when, as Sir rings twice, Miranda and Elliot, trapped, ponder their next move.
As the two-act play trudges along, Sir’s image as a whimsically inscrutable God controlling people as if they were puppets becomes sharper, with Gulliver as his soon-to-fall Lucifer. Perhaps Miranda and Elliot are angels hoping to retain God’s grace. There’s also the possibility that Hruska is seeking to say something (don’t ask me) about the disempowerment of the 99 percent by showing the callousness of the one percent. It’s a stretch but Sir—despite the vagueness of his motives—might be a stand-in for Donald Trump.
Apart from scattered moments, there’s precious little to keep you invested for nearly two hours. Kreigel and Lassiter bring a modicum of charm and conviction to the maid and the plumber, Malcolm is haughty yet subtly mischievous as Sir, Pearce’s slimy Gulliver is dismissive in a Sean Spicer way, Merrick fails to make anything substantial of Elliot, and Connell and Thiesfield (especially the latter) provide an object lesson in overacting.
Rick Lombardo’s direction (far better in his recent Albatross), Haddon Kime’s original music, Jason Sherwood’s sets, Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes, and Matthew Richards’s lighting, while perfectly professional, never provide the inventive magic an offbeat play like this requires. That, however, may be like seeking gas or water in Hruska’s post-apocalyptic world.
Ring Twice for Miranda
City Center Stage II
131 W. 55th St., NYC
Through April 16
Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).