By John Quinn
Every fan of “Star Trek” can tell you that the logical mind has trouble grasping the illogical. There are few sensations as illogical as love, and the inexperienced Steven Tudor makes all the wrong moves in Canadian playwright David Belke’s “The Red King’s Dream,” the latest production of Tipping Point Theatre in Northville.
Steven (Aral Gribble) writes indices (not “indexes”); you know, those sections at the back of biographies where you can find the stuff you’re looking for without reading the book. Since his work is largely research, his life is confined to his disorderly apartment and the public library. His seclusion is interrupted only by visits from his best (and only) friend, Amy Mathias (Leslie Hull). Like Heckle and Jeckle, the cartoon crows, “they’re always a pair but never a couple.” Less welcome are the visits by his slave-driving boss, Katherine Rapell (Julia Glander), who is very possessive of his time and talents. The nebbish is so reclusive he decides some people are constitutionally unable to experience love.
Steven’s world turns topsy-turvy when grad student Zoe Pryce (Maggie Meyer) moves in down the hall. Smitten by her intellect and the fact that she’s “probably pretty,” he feels unfamiliar emotions. Intense research proves it’s love. But love is not subject to logic, and Steven fumbling courtship leaves the audience in a mix of good humor and sympathy.
The title “The Red King’s Dream” is reference to a scene in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass,” the darker and more perplexing sequel to “Alice in Wonderland.” Nursery rhyme characters Tweedledum and Tweedledee take Alice to where the chessboard’s Red King is sleeping. They suggest that Alice does not exist; she’s merely a figment in the King’s dream. If he were to awake, she’d go out “like a candle.” Alice begins to question what is real and what is illusion, much as Steven does in his quest for love. The fact that Alice’s discomfort is caused by two characters that flip logic on its head should have been a warning to the rational Steven: Logic pushed too far results in nonsense.
“The Red King’s Dream” features the elegant ensemble acting that is the hallmark of Tipping Point’s productions. Director Chantel Gaidica has her cast playing comedy at the top, but never over the top. That sets up some delightful contrasts among the characters.
Hull’s Amy is outgoing, but unlucky in love, and, in the spirit of “opposites attract,” is a perfect foil for Steven’s emotional vacuum. And again, his meekness allows Glander to play an overbearing monster of an employer with just enough venom in her bite. The best scenes, of course, are between Meyer and Gribble. The characters are working at cross purposes, “contrariwise,” as the Tweedle Twins might put it. Therein lies a major exposition on the theme of illogical love, and a great deal of the comedy.
Gribble is great on his own too, since Steven addresses the audience in a series of monologues. It’s captivating watching the rapid play of emotions that flicker across his face as the disheveled Steven moves around his book-filled apartment.
The set is the first professional design project by Brandon Newton, who may have bought out the entire inventory of several Salvation Army stores to supply the books that fill the stage and under the stage as well. The sheer randomness of the look is a nice representation of the occupant’s mind – factoids stored here and there in no particular order, but they’re always available when needed.
The last line of “Through the Looking-Glass is, “Life, what is it but a dream?” That’s an apt summary, both of Carroll’s book and Belke’s play. Life’s dreams don’t often survive the awakening. It’s joyous when they do, bittersweet when they don’t. “The Red King’s Dream” will show you both.
‘The Red King’s Dream’
Tipping Point Theatre, 361 E. Cady St., Northville. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Saturday & 2 p.m. Sunday through June 29, plus 3 p.m. Wednesday, June 18. 2 hours. $20-30. 248-347-0003. http://www.tippingpointtheatre.com