Ring Twice for Miranda
"Ring Twice for Miranda," a new play produced at New York City Center's intimate Stage II, is set in another time and place, one that seems at once in the past and the future.
The play begins in one of those downstairs servants' areas with all the bells for the various rooms in the manor (think: "Downton Abbey"). Two bored servants, who both speak like contemporary Americans, sit at a long table. Elliot (George Merrick) is dressed in a kind of classic British butler get-up, while Miranda (Katie Kleiger) is outfitted a bit like a French maid.
They talk about the fact that other servants have been let go, and even they aren't needed much by Sir (Graeme Malcolm), their boss. But losing their jobs would be terrifying because it would mean being consigned to the outside world. Neither has seen much of it, at least not recently, but it is clear they have been led to believe it is deeply troubled times out there.
Then the worst happens: Sir's chief lackey, Gulliver (Daniel Pearce), fires Elliot, as the household no longer has a use for a butler. Although Elliot and Miranda's relationship is complicated (it seems they were lovers, but no longer, not by his choice), she feels some love or loyalty for him and tries to convince Sir to keep him, even threatening to leave herself. The services she provides are ambiguous, but definitely of considerable value to Sir. Nonetheless, he won't give in, so Miranda and Elliot make their way out of the protective manor and into the city streets.
Playwright Alan Hruska's script has a Pinteresque quality, with dialogue that is sometimes cryptic, off-beat characters with uncertain motives, and an overarching aura of menace. How you feel about the play may depend on how much you like that kind of writing. Personally, it's not my cup of tea, so I didn't always feel completely engaged by the characters and their plights.
But I did appreciate that rather than just allowing the outside world to be a vague threat, Hruska actually takes us with Elliot and Miranda out into the empty, garbage-strewn streets. He has a bit of fun teasing us as to whether they are just in a dried-up urban wasteland or if the situation is as extreme as something like Cormac McCarthy's terrifying post-apocalyptic story "The Road" where lack of a food supply has led to actual cannibalism.
After a harrowing day out in the cold, cruel world that includes hitchhiking attempts, a lot of concern over how to explore their surroundings without leaving their luggage unattended, and run-ins with a few odd characters (special mention goes to the wonderful Ian Lassiter as Felix), Elliot and Miranda get a shot at a second chance with Sir-but at what price?
The way that "Ring Twice for Miranda," under the direction of Rick Lombardo, plays with mood is one of its best assets. Lombardo himself is responsible for the sound design, which provides a few genuine jolts during the evening, and Haddon Kime's intense original music also creates a great atmosphere. Jason Sherwood's scenic design is also very well done, from the warm elegance of the manor to the desolation of the street.
Unfortunately, the play itself isn't as compelling as these production elements. It does have its moments, particularly near the end when we learn more about what makes Sir tick, and what it is about Miranda that he values so highly. But it's not quite worth the wait to get there.
"Ring Twice for Miranda" runs through April 16 at Stage II a City Center, 131 West 55th Street, NYC. For information or tickets, call 212-581-1212 or visit www.nycitycenter.org.