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‘The Red King’s Dream’ keeps the it real at Tipping Point Theatre

Aral Gribble, Leslie Hull, Julia Glander and Maggie Meyer in "The Red King's Dream" at TPT.
Aral Gribble, Leslie Hull, Julia Glander and Maggie Meyer in "The Red King's Dream" at TPT.
Steve Fecht Photography

"The Red King's Dream" at Tipping Point Theatre

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The importance of the dream world has long been explored through literary styles ranging from “Hamlet” to “Pinocchio.” Tipping Point Theatre’s newest show, “The Red King’s Dream” by Canadian playwright David Belke, is a delightful production of a brilliant script that launches the exploration of dreams in a new direction. The title, of course, is a reference to Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” and the notion that if the Red King is awakened from his nap, Alice and creatures on the “other” side of the Looking Glass will cease to exist, because they are only part of his dream.

“Alice” aficionados will appreciate the many layered allusions to Carroll’s beloved classic. The stage deck itself is tiled in black and white, like a chessboard, placed over a foundation of well-read books. The characters speak lines that echo Carroll verbatim (curiouser and curiouser) and their personalities and habits reflect those of their counterparts in Looking Glass Land.

In fact, the play opens with a Carroll-inspired dream. The principal character, Steven Tudor, works for a publishing company as a writer of detailed indices. We find him dosing over a biography of Lewis Carroll for which he is compiling an index. Steven’s bright red crocs suggest that he fills the role of the eponymous Red King. As he snoozes, Tweedledum, Tweedledee and Alice enter and speculate on what will happen if they wake him up. Alice refuses to accept the notion that she exists only as part of someone else’s dream. This unfolds a theme that is happily tugged and tucked throughout the play like a slipcover on an old couch. As with the original story, the play challenges the notion of reality: can dreams be more real than what we think of as reality? Whose dream might we be part of, our own or someone else’s? And ultimately what happens when our “reality” is shattered by improbable dreams of a romantic nature?

That’s a conundrum that our hero Steven is forced to consider when a beautiful, intelligent new neighbor – Zoe – moves into the building and rocks his highly structured world. Relying on his proven skills, Steven analyzes his feelings as he would a book index – by gathering data, looking for patterns in the construct, taking rigorous notes, and seeking a logical solution. The trick is, Steven never leaves his home office or his rigid, work-centric routine. So his theories are based on what he gathers from books, the Internet, and his only two acquaintances. One is his best friend Amy, who believes that each successive man she meets is the right one. Like the kind-hearted White Queen of the Looking Glass, she is able to believe several impossible things at once (about the relative merits of men, school children and jazz) and seeks respite in a good nap. The other woman is Steven’s life is his slave-driving editor Katherine who, like the Red Queen, assumes that everyone and everything exits to serve her pleasure; those who cross Katherine quickly learn that heads will roll.

The director of “The Red King’s Dream,” Chantel Gaidica, brings the script to life in a way that is funny, nuanced and rich with just the right details. Her vision is supported by a production team that includes Resident Stage Manager Tracy L. Spada, Set Designer Brandon Newton, Lighting Designer Brian Scruggs, Costume Designer Colleen Ryan Peters, Properties Designer/Dramaturg Amanda Ewing, and Sound Designer Quintessa Gallinat. The clever use of staging/lighting cues, subtle costume features and suggestive incidental music help seamlessly layer the story of Steven Tudor with the ‘Looking Glass’ themes.

“One of my favorite things about the play and our production is the blending of these two worlds, dream and reality, and the ties between the story of this man’s life and the story of Alice in ‘Through the Looking Glass,’” says Gaidica. “The two tales are constantly intertwining and revealing things about one another, and it’s incredibly fun to watch the characters navigate the different elements.”

That said, “The Red King’s Dream” is a clever, self-contained comedy on its own merits and doesn’t rely on a deep knowledge of the Lewis Carroll stories to be enjoyed. Aral Gribble delivers a charming performance as the introverted intellectual who must cope with two terrifying discoveries: first, that he is capable of emotional attachment and second that he has, in fact, fallen in love with his new neighbor, Zoe (Maggie Meyer). Zoe, like Lewis Carroll’s precocious Alice, is equal to Steven’s intellectual banter and wordplay, but Meyer brings a satisfying naiveté to the role. Leslie Hull (Amy) and Julia Glander (Katherine) are the good and bad angels in Steven’s life. Hull is buoyant and irrepressible, Glander is controlling and conniving. Together, they frame the play’s suggestion that it is important to have dreams – regardless of whether or not they are “real.”

You can catch the American premiere of “The Red King’s Dream” from May 29 to June 29, 2014 at Tipping Point Theatre. The curtain rises at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, with matinees at 3 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. A special matinee performance has been added on Wednesday, June 18, 2014. The theatre is located at 361 E. Cady St. in Northville. Tickets are $29 to $32 for adults and $27 to $30 for students and senior citizens and are available by calling the box office at 248-347-0003.