Katie Kleiger, George Merrick, William Connell, and Talia Thiesfield star in Alan Hruska's Ring Twice for Miranda, directed by Rick Lombardo, at New York City Center Stage II.
Katie Kleiger, George Merrick, William Connell, and Talia Thiesfield star in Alan Hruska's Ring Twice for Miranda, directed by Rick Lombardo, at New York City Center Stage II.
(© Russ Rowland)

When the news suggests day after day that the world is beginning to circle the drain, an apocalypse-themed play might seem like the perfect way to offer up darkly comic commentary on the state of things. This seems like what Alan Hruska's new play, Ring Twice for Miranda, now running at New York City Center's Stage II, is attempting to do. Unfortunately, this awkwardly plotted "tragicomedy," with its sketchy humor and one-dimensional characters, feels like a missed opportunity to deliver some timely satire regarding greed and privilege in the halls of power.

In a nameless city, a maid named Miranda (Katie Kleiger) keeps house for the wealthy Sir (Graeme Malcolm) along with her erstwhile lover, the butler Elliot (George Merrick). A global economic meltdown has made the world outside a violent wasteland where people must struggle like animals to survive. Inside Sir's mansion, however, food is plentiful and safety guaranteed. When Sir's second-in-command, Gulliver (Daniel Pearce), tells Elliot that his services are no longer required, Miranda leaves with him to confront the desolate streets, where they meet a drug-peddling couple, Chester and Anouk (William Connell and Talia Thiesfield), and handyman Felix (Ian Lassiter). Deception and intrigue ensue as everyone tries to get back to Sir's mansion, but that enormous house is no longer the safe haven it once seemed to be.

The performances here are energetic, with Lassiter standing out for his amiable yet insidious portrayal of a blue-collar worker with white-collar ambitions, and Thiesfield's hyperbolic British accent and over-the-top emoting yield a couple of the play's few chuckles. Hruska's contrived plot and choppy dialogue, however, make it difficult for the actors to create fully realized characters worth caring about. Director Rick Lombardo doesn't help in this regard, preferring instead to wow the audience with special effects, such as lighting designer Matthew Richards' menacing shadows, which create all-too-brief moments of suspense.

Ann Hould-Ward's costumes make clear distinctions between the affluent isolation of Sir, wearing a red velvety robe, and the delusional desperation of Chester and Anouk, dressed like mannequins in a second-hand shop window. Jason Sherwood's noteworthy set quickly converts from well-kept house to garbage-strewn desolation — the latter scene punctuated by several tattered suitcases that drop from the flies onto the street.

This is the sort of absurdist stage business that could have made Ring Twice memorable, along with the 24 intriguing bells on the wall in the servants' hall, each labeled with a different room in the house. Sir gives the Master Bedroom bell a double jingle when he wants Miranda's "services." But alas, the rest of those bells — like many of the minutes in this two-hour play seem to do — never move.

The hopelessness that hangs over the prison of Sir's house vanishes for a moment with an unexpected guitar solo in the second act. Kleiger's warbling soprano and delicate playing give life to Miranda's peculiar song about a pony that runs free. But this charming (and incongruous) interlude is not enough to free us from the play's labored philosophizing. "Our lives have been overtaken by a metaphor," says Miranda as she contemplates her confinement. For those of us sitting in the audience, that statement at least rings true.