The story centers around the reclusive Steven Tudor (Aral Gribble), whose entire world consists of working from home creating indices (that's the plural of index) for his boss, publisher Katherine Rapell (Julia Glander). Aside from his pushy employer, the only visitor who ever seems to cross his threshold is his friend and neighbor Amy Mathias (Leslie Hull)... until graduate student Zoe Pryce (Maggie Meyer) moves in down the hall and begins to open up his tiny world to things he didn't even know he was missing.
First things first: I can't say that I loved the script. There are some genuinely touching and funny moments, but a good deal of the conflict feels a bit contrived, sort of whipping itself into a frenzy out of nowhere because we're supposed to have a climax now, and Katherine's motives never quite come into focus in a way that justifies the suddenly heightened stakes. On top of the script issues, the production suffers a bit from a sort of general pacing problem - with a bit too much air in conversations to give them the quick crispness that I think the writer wanted (though I suspect this is something that will remedy itself over the course of the run). And I fear that director Chantel Gaidica danced along the surface of the script in a few places, missing some of the opportunities for deeper nuances in the storytelling - though I do think she did much more with the script than the playwright built in. Still, despite some of the hang-ups, the performance is generally quite charming and fun - due in no small part to the excellent work of Aral Gribble as Steven. In a role that could easily have become a nerdy, nebbishy stereotype, Gribble brings a delicate vulnerability that endears him to the audience and makes his journey really matter despite the shortcomings of the playwright. He is funny and timid and brave and true, and an awful lot of fun to watch. The bombastic Leslie Hull as his friend Amy is a great foil for Gribble's sweet shut-in, blowing in and out of his apartment with energy and life. And though I think that the production missed some opportunities to deepen this character, she is generally very likeable. Maggie Meyer's Zoe has a natural, down-to-earth approachability about her. There are times when she plays the "sweet ingenue" card a little too heavily, but generally her ease and openness make her someone we really root for. Julia Glander has her moments as Steven's abrasive publisher boss Katherine, but she is overall a little over-the-top for my taste - she rarely seems to be playing in quite the same world as the rest of the characters.
While I did have some issues with the production, all in all, the visual world of the play is really spot on. Brandon Newton's deliciously cluttered scenic design puts us smack dab inside Steven's apartment... or maybe it's his brain... or maybe it's both. No doubt a (very effective) collaboration with props designer Amanda Ewing, there is hardly a surface unused, and the cockeyed angles and labyrinthine shelf layout provides a rich setting for the action of the play. Colleen Ryan-Peters's costume design is creative and functional. It's sort of a shame that her playful fantasy costumes don't get more stage time, but the real world characters also look pretty darn good. And I'll just go ahead and say it: I kind of wanted all of Zoe's costumes (green party dress... you will be mine). Brian Scruggs's lighting design, though minimal, reinforces the action of the play handily, and I particularly like the depth added to the maze by the judicious use of a few bare bulbs. Throw in Quintessa Gallinat's energetic sound design, and you've got a technical world that really does a lot to bring this show to life.
It's interesting, I didn't really expect to find a contemporary political message in this play - and I certainly don't think that anyone at Tipping Point remotely intended one, and it even seems fairly likely that I could be the only person who might make this connection - but I couldn't help leaving the theatre thinking about the recent conversations in the media surrounding the nerdy "nice guy" underdogs and whether or not they are simply "owed" the pretty girl in the end because that's how it happens in the movies. In this sense, The Red King's Dream ended up being inadvertently well timed to be a part of that conversation. And though the script has some bumps, and the show isn't perfect, what it does do is provide a genuinely warm, thoughtful, and often funny production that ends up providing a narrative that is a welcome something different, and a thoroughly enjoyable evening at the theatre.
The Red King's Dream by David Belke (Director: Chantel Gaidica) continues at Tipping Point Theatre through June 29. Tickets range from $27-$32. For more information, visit http://www.tippingpointtheatre.com/.