The Red King’s Dream
Shadow Theatre production on the Varscona Theatre stage
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Oct. 26 to Nov. 13, 2016

Review by GRAHAM HICKS, Hicks 

Prolific Edmonton playwright David Belke has written plays encompassing modern farce, introspection, historic figures mixed into the contemporary world, humour, confusion and much more. 

He, with Shadow Theatre artistic director John Hudson, chose to re-mount one of Belke’s most introspective and serious plays, 1996’s The Red King’s Dream, for the opening play of Shadow Theatre’s 2016/17 season in the new Varscona Theatre.

The Red King’s Dream is a quiet play – a two-hour introspective meditation on the nature of romantic love and infatuation.  An awkward, intellectual loner, buried in books, is kindled by passion as he falls in love with a woman with similar tastes who happens to live in the apartment building.

While The Red King’s Dream is an interesting treatise on the nature of romantic love – its complexities, its illusions, its overpowering impact on everyday life – it is a long show with very little drama until the final 20 minutes.

Yes, it is an interesting exercise in the teasing of inspiration out of introspection. The underlying theme – ‘tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all – has its moments. As Belke says in his playwright’s notes, his motivation for writing The Red King’s Dream came from  “a revelation … that a life lived, even one as ordinary as my own, could be mined for theatrical truth.” 

Creative fiction, however, does not do well with the minutiae of ordinary lives. Ordinary people in the fictional world are usually only interesting when found in extraordinary circumstances. 

The everyday life of The Red King’s Dream’s chief character Steven Tudor (gamely played by Mathew Hulshof) is as dull as dishwater.  Even his dream life – friends and acquaintances appearing as characters from Through the Looking-Glass – is not particularly dramatic. 
Belke’s wit and humourous turn of phrase does not rescue this play from its many sleepy moments. The dramatic device of contrasting Tudor’s pre-love sleep walk through life with the vitality arising from falling in love is fine. But with 90 minutes of sleep-walking, the audience tends to fall asleep.

Director Hudson and his actors – Mathew Hulshof as the pivotal character Steven, Rachel Bowron as Steven’s friend Amy, Amber Bissonnette as Steven’s one-sided love interest Zoe and Linda Grass as Belke’s one over-the-top-character as Steven’s publisher boss Katherine – do their best with what the script gives them. But the introspection and oh-so-quiet life of Stephen makes for a play that’s terribly slow at the best of times, with so many awkward moments and long pauses that they become clichés unto themselves. 

There’s an argument to be made for the re-staging of The Red King’s Dream. In a world over run with  jolts per minute, a reflective, contemplative play might again be timely. 

But it’s remains a mystery why  Hudson and Belke would settle on this particular, slow-as-molasses show when so many lively alternatives – that Belke fans would love to see re-mounted - are in the playwright’s archives.