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Theatre in Review: Ring Twice for Miranda (City Center Stage II)

Katie Kleiger, Daniel Pearce. Photo Russ Rowland

Or, better yet, don't. Alan Hruska's sort of comedy, sort of drama isn't really much of anything; ostensibly a tale of masters and servants in a vaguely rendered post-apocalypse world, it is filled with hints and portents that don't resonate and a mystery that, when revealed, proves to be a total fizzle. This one is likely to go down as one of the season's real head-scratchers.

Miranda, a housemaid, is one of two servants left in the Manhattan townhouse of a man known only as Sir. Her sole remaining colleague is Elliot, the butler. They spend their days in idle boredom, but leaving isn't really an option because civilization has apparently collapsed. After food and fuel mysteriously stopped arriving, the city's populace fled, most of them going south for the warmer weather. Such plans proved futile, as there is apparently no food there, either.

Exactly why this has happened is never made clear; we are told that Sir "is responsible for the entire district, every life in it," but what that means is left vague. Miranda and Elliot have it easy, relatively speaking, since Sir's house remains well-supplied, but the lack of something to do is getting to them. Actually, only Miranda is ever summoned to Sir's bedroom; there, she performs tasks that she won't describe to Elliot, who is also her ex-lover and jealous as all get-out. These facts help to explain why the first scene of Ring Twice for Miranda consists of endless squabbling; they do not explain why the dialogue is so unamusing.

This stalemate is broken when Gulliver, Sir's smarmy second-in-command, informs Elliot that his services are no longer needed. Miranda tries to intervene with Sir, a dapper, elderly gent in a red velvet bathrobe and monogrammed slippers, but he pretends not to know Elliot's name -- or hers. Furious, Miranda flees with Elliot to the streets, where they bicker about their travel plans; during this scene, one would be forgiven for thinking that Ring Twice for Miranda is a play about the problems of luggage. Eventually, they run into a bizarre couple -- the English Chester and the Egyptian Anouk -- who are traveling in a fuel-starved Porsche loaded with pharmaceuticals -- and also Felix, a plumber who is more than he first appears to be.

After a lengthy stretch of conversation -- mostly focused on whether or not Miranda and Elliot can fit their bags into the car -- all of the characters end up back at Sir's townhouse, where Anouk makes a play to permanently replace Miranda, and we find out exactly what Miranda does for her employer. Everyone onstage -- and, I dare say, most of the audience -- thinks that she is some kind of prostitute. The truth, when revealed, is much simpler -- and blander -- than that. More allegations are hurled -- Miranda accuses Sir of bringing the world to ruin, without supplying a motive -- after which the play takes a glide path to the most unresolved second act curtain of the season.

Clearly, Hruska feels that if he supplies enough hints, the audience will fill in the story's many blanks, but his details don't add up. The city has ground to a halt -- so why does Sir's house have electric power and plenty of food? How is it that some characters have working cell phones? If Sir is behind all these terrible events, what is his motive? What is he achieving by destroying the country, or perhaps the world? One reason that the revelation of Miranda's services falls so flat is that we don't understand what Sir gets out of them. It doesn't help that the characters behave and speak like no human beings ever seen, strolling through a blasted landscape -- one that should fill them with terror and a gut-wrenching sense of loss -- chattering away like the wacky neighbors in a bad network sitcom.

Rick Lombardo's production is certainly polished and his cast is remarkably committed, when they aren't mugging shamelessly. In the title role, Katie Kleiger has real stage presence and a way with even the weakest line; Ian Lassiter's disingenuous Felix is a study in slipperiness. On the other hand, as Chester and Anouk, William Connell and Talia Thiesfield are made to wave their arms, dance about, and make ridiculous faces.

Jason Sherwood's clever set design places a four-poster bed frame over the stage, as if everyone dwells under Sir's control; the show begins in the servants' kitchen, which is dominated by a bell board, with a bell for each room in the house; it switches over rapidly for scenes set in Sir's bedroom and on the street. Ann Hould-Ward's costumes and Matthew Richards' lighting are totally solid contributions. Lombardo also served as sound designer; in addition to a number of effects, he provides fine reinforcement for Haddon Kime's sinister incidental music.

Ring Twice for Miranda is fantasy suffering from a case of insufficient imagination. It never establishes a coherent world and the characters' motivations are often left bewilderingly unclear. Sir might be the most powerful man in the world but, it appears, not even he can get a coherent second act. -- David Barbour

(13 February 2017)

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