Hruska dabbles in existential world-weariness, classism, apocalyptic darkness, the Holocaust, spinning it skillfully, if pretentiously, into a surreal entertainment that induces much head-scratching but is not without its literate pleasures, not to mention fine acting and surprisingly intriguing production values.
In a mansion frozen in time, a maid, Miranda (Katie Kleiger), and a butler, Elliot (George Merrick), are uneasily content with their positions in the microcosmic nation ruled by Sir (Graeme Malcolm) via his vain puppet, Gulliver (Daniel Pearce). How the two servants have kept their jobs may have included sexual favors, but has definitely included a great deal of groveling to the haughty Gulliver and Sir.
Soon the two servants, who have a romantic history, are forced to leave this bizarre haven having lost their favored status. Miranda and Elliot find a city in the thrall of anarchy and loss of any sense of civility. In their quest to travel to the nearest possible source of food and shelter, they meet Chester (William Connell, bizarrely fey, yet dark) and Anouk (Talia Thiesfield, part gypsy/part flower child), who wind up replacing Miranda and Elliot in the mansion by the beginning of Act Two, put through their paces by Gulliver and Sir.
Then there is Felix (Ian Lassiter, fine in a role of several surprising reversals) whose Hispanic accent is so thick that it would offend the entire population of South America. (Turns out, it is purposely exaggerated.) Felix also insinuates himself in the Sir household to deleterious effect.
As the population of household morphs on the whims of Sir, questions arise about who has caused the social upheaval outside the protective walls of this symbolic house. Here Hruska becomes ambiguous and noncommittal, leaving the audience to make up its own mind.
Although Ring Twice is filled to the brim with socio-political symbolism, it’s not likely that the author was trying for any direct reference to the current maddening political scene since gestation periods for plays are notoriously long. Clearly this play was written well before the 2016 election, so any vague commentary appears to be inadvertent. This is not to say that the metaphors and symbols Hruska uses aren’t intriguing in their own way.
Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes, from Sir’s red velour dressing gown to the servants’ uniforms to the new age, hippy gear of two of the interlopers, are superb as was the lighting designs of Matthew Richards.
Jason Sherwood’s ingenious set has many surprises. Constructed like a giant four-poster, the set, with some furniture sliding in and out and a witty Murphy-style bed that folds out of what appears to be a supply closet, changes from smoothly from scene to scene. The back walls part to reveal the graffiti and poster-covered walls that imply the chaos outside the house.
The actors are all fine under Rick Lombardo’s energetic direction. Ms. Kleiger has a lovely face and figure which hides a steely core. Mr. Merrick’s Elliot is weak, but likeable. As Gulliver, Mr. Pearce makes haughtiness an art form. Graeme Malcom’s Sir is as complex as the writing will allow. He moves with a dignity that belies his perverse nature. Ms. Thiesfield, Mr. Connell and Mr. Lassiter work hard to keep their characters from floating off into caricature and succeed more often than they fail.
Ring Twice for Miranda (through April 16, 2017)
New York City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-581-1212 or visit http://www.NYCityCenter.org
Running time: two hours including one intermission.
A pretentious play that induces much head-scratching.