To what lengths would you be willing to go to get what you want? That’s the moralizing question posed by English playwright Philip Ridley, in Inis Nua Theatre Company’s Philadelphia premiere of his laugh-out-loud absurdly dark satire Radiant Vermin. And it’s asked not only of the characters, but of the audience, as well. So think long and hard about this one when you leave the theater and encounter your next temptation, a person who is less fortunate than you are, or the proverbial offer that seems “too good to be true” (it always is).
Jill and Ollie, a young couple caught in London’s over-inflated housing market, are quick to tell you that they’re “good people.” They also want to tell you the story of their renovated “dream house” and how they came to get it when they really couldn’t afford it, thanks to a free government offer presented to them by the enticing Miss Dee. Combining direct-address storytelling and audience interactions with episodic re-enactments, they take us back and forth from the immediate present through the past year and a half, recounting key points in their narrative, giving us a running commentary, and seeking our collective opinion on what they did and how they justified it.
Directed by Claire Moyer, the pace is lightning fast, the sardonic humor never stops, and the cast of three is spot-on hilarious. Emilie Krause as the excitable Jill and Adam Hammet as the more considered Ollie capture all of the couple’s laughable feelings of entitlement, misguided enthusiasm, and clueless self-delusion in side-splitting performances, using only a few essential props, and miming the rest, in their animated recollections. Prodded and rewarded by the devilishly persuasive Eleni Delopoulos as Miss Dee (her send-up of an aggressive real estate agent is priceless!), they remain completely likeable and engaging, despite the outrageous actions and familiar excuses of the ethically-challenged and increasingly greedy characters, who, they explain, are doing it for their children. Uh huh.
A highlight of the show, which wittily interweaves religious traditions with social farce, is the party scene, in which Krause and Hammet portray Jill, Ollie, and all of the neighbors in attendance, switching from one to another at breakneck speed, while mimicking their speech patterns and demeanors with madcap acuity. Another is Delopoulos’s mercurial appearance as an impoverished stranger, who all-too-eagerly supports their deplorable plan. It becomes evident (hint, hint) that neither she nor the self-described “good people” are what they seem or would like to believe.
Meghan Jones’ brightly painted open wooden framework of a two-story house, with central stairs and a single upholstered bench, allows for the actors to move freely and furiously around the space. Costumes by Katherine Fritz are appropriate to the outward personalities of the characters, while lighting by Amanda Jensen and an original sound design by Elizabeth Atkins create just the right moods for their fantastical story.
After keeping you howling with laughter, shaking your head, and gasping in shock for the full two hours, Radiant Vermin will leave you thinking about your own attitudes and ethics, and re-evaluating whether your judgments are based on what’s best for society at large, what’s the most humane, or what’s in your own insatiable self-interest.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, without an intermission.
Radiant Vermin plays through Sunday, November 6, 2016, presented by Inis Nua Theatre Company, performing at the Louis Bluver Theatre at The Drake – 305 South Hicks Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 454-9776, or purchase them online.