While a play about insomnia could put its audience to sleep, Tipping Point Theatre’s slickly staged and superbly acted season opener, “A Sleeping Country,” does anything but – thanks to director Julia Glander and her top-notch cast who skillfully override the handful of potential pitfalls handed them by playwright Melanie Marnich.
Julia Fricassi (Sarab Kamoo) is at the end of her rope. After months of suffering with the “Worst Insomnia in the World,” Julia turns to her lifelong friend (and psychiatrist) Midge (Andrea Boswell-Burns) for help. But their sessions get nowhere until Midge surfs the internet and discovers a very rare – and fatal – sleep disorder found in just one Italian family, the Orsinis of Venice, Italy. And guess what? One of Julia’s grandmothers was an Orsini, so she grabs her passport and heads to Europe to visit the only known person in the world afflicted with Fatal Familial Insomnia, Isabella Orsini (Connie Cowper) – unannounced, of course, and against the advice of her frustrated, live-in fiance, Greg (Aaron T. Moore). What Julia learns there awakens her to more than she ever expected to discover.
But that’s certainly not what the audience experiences, since Marnich telegraphs the obvious answer at least twice prior to Julia’s journey to Venice. (Apparently, Julia is the only one in the theater asleep to the cause of her troubles.)
But that’s not the only flaw with Marnich’s script.
The playwright also asks her audience to suspend way too much disbelief when it comes to a handful of the story’s other important plot points. One is the mystical element she introduces in Venice (but doesn’t fully explore), which conveniently allows the flow of time to be illogically condensed. (The DNA test comes back in minutes rather than days or weeks, for example.) Another is the fact that Julia would never make it through customs carrying enough illegally obtained (and illegal) drugs to kill an army platoon. (That’s all she packed in her suitcase.)
Nevertheless, Marnich’s otherwise witty script tosses plenty of emotional meat to her actors – which, because of Glander’s careful baking, is tastefully cooked and served to perfection.
Boswell-Burns delights as the totally self-absorbed shrink who seems to need more help than her patient, while Cowper perfectly mixes haughty Isabella’s disdain for her disheveled visitor from America with the brief (but sincere) desire to help. (Plus, her Italian accent never waivers.)
But the stars of the show are Kamoo and Moore.
The script calls for Moore to tackle three roles, and his versatility is well-displayed by creating fully unique characters for each: the concerned, but exhausted fiance; the Italian manservant/lover; and the stereotypically furry and irresistible son of Isabella.
Likewise, Kamoo excels at digging deeply into her character’s psyche and finding the perfect gesture, glance or voice to bring Julia’s roller coaster of emotions bubbling to the surface.
The three-level set by Charlie Gaidica serves the action exceptionally well, as does the sound design by Chad Keilman.
‘A Sleeping Country’
Tipping Point Theatre, 361 E. Cady St., Northville. Thursday-Sunday through Sep. 27. $18-$27. 248-347-0003. http://www.tippingpointtheatre.com