What would you do for your dream home? From Door Number 3 comes Radiant Vermin, a darkly comedic skewering of consumer culture and the lengths seemingly good people will go to maintain comfort and status.
The play follows Ollie (Kapil Talwalkar) and Jill (Britt Harris), an expectant couple at their wit’s end, living in an apartment complex with a reputation for drugs and violence, when they receive the offer of a lifetime: free real estate. After some apprehension about a potential trap or reality TV setup, they decide to check out the house where they’re met by Miss Dee (Laura Faye Smith) a charismatic and manipulative real estate agent. The home is in a state of disrepair, but it’s free and they don’t have a lot of other options. Miss Dee explains that they’re extending this incredible offer so that they might renovate the home and bring in more buyers for the neighborhood and they accept this questionable explanation in an optimistic haze. Having taken possession of their new home, the couple is filled with a newfound sense of hope but overwhelmed by the massive weight of renovations that lie ahead of them.
The stress this places on them almost convinces them to move back to their old home, however, after a surprise encounter one night, they realize that anything is possible with a little hard work and…sacrifice. Ollie and Jill are portrayed as these sort of Brad & Janet, wholesome, middle America people (or whatever the British variant of that is given Radiant Vermin takes place in England) so it’s made purposefully jarring the lengths they’re willing to go to protect their newly-posh lifestyle. That doesn’t get any easier as neighbors start to move in. Neighbors with money whose privileged lifestyles push the couple to new extremes to keep up with these rising expectations.
Harris and Talwalker are pushed to their limits as they portray not just their primary characters, but also their neighbors and their kids. Each of these characters not only gets the traditional voice and mannerisms to differentiate them from one another but also a cartoonish posture to give them an instantly recognizable silhouette. This results in one scene where the entire neighborhood is present devolving into a manic kabuki theater of rapidly shifting contortion that is both enjoyable for its charm and energy and quite exhausting, for the audience and I would imagine the cast as well. These side characters are often more entertaining that Jill and Ollie, but they’re both entertaining in their own right, with Ollie being caught between the mental turmoil of what he must do and all the attractive perks and Jill having a barely concealed sociopathy lying below her friendly veneer (and one hell of a scream, for that matter).
The set itself is the bare scaffolding of a home and there are no props to speak of, leading to a lot of miming and narration of what’s supposed to be occurring in the scene. I could see some audiences disliking how this impacts the realism of the scene, but the play is already a surreal farce and this leads to some pretty entertaining action sequences with the characters having to battle against an imagined force. There’s also a very permeable fourth wall as the characters go in and out of being present in the scene and addressing the audience directly. The production is minimalistic, but the use of lightning and some well-timed sound effects help bring things to live.
Radiant Vermin has a lot going for it and will appeal to anyone that enjoys dark comedy and tonal dissonance. The resolution doesn’t end up leaving the strongest lasting impression, though the clever fourth wall break works well enough and there’s a scene or two where it starts to take itself a bit more seriously than is warranted, in general, it’s a fiendish comedy with a cast of charming and memorable characters.
Radiant Vermin is running on select nights through November 18th. Purchase your tickets here.