Reviewed by Guy Pico
What moral compromises would you be prepared to make to create a better life for your family? This is the central question for a struggling British couple in Philip Ridley’s timely and challenging play, Radiant Vermin, presented by new company Door Number 3 as a guest performance at the Odyssey Theatre, Los Angeles.
Jill (Britt Harris) and Ollie (Kapil Talwalkar) are living in a rat-infested flat and nervously looking forward to parenthood when a mysterious civil servant Miss Dee (Laura Fay Smith) makes them an offer they can’t refuse: A house, free of charge, all they have to do is renovate it. Ollie is initially dubious but Jill plays her pregnancy card and their course is set.
Designer Pete Hickok’s elegantly sparse frame house is the blank canvas on which they can project their dreams. They soon learn that those dreams can come true, if they just forget the difference between right and wrong. Once they start down the path of ruthless acquisition, they find that it is impossible to stop.
This highly stylized production eschews any props, relying instead on the actors’ space-work. This, combined with the heavy-handed British accents, makes it difficult to really relate to the couples’ dilemma, we are definitely watching actors doing acting. Smith, doubling as the tragic vagrant Kay, manages to provide a very welcome humanity.
There is some direct address to the audience, which elicited a few nervous chuckles, but overall the tone is too brittle to accommodate easy laughter.
Talwalkar is an engaging performer who particularly shines in the tour-de-force garden party scene, where he plays multiple characters with impressive rapidity. Harris, as a latter-day Lady M, brings a fierce energy and admirable physicality.
Production values are high throughout, especially the unobtrusive but excellent sound design by Chris Moscatiello.
Director Tim True’s stated intention for his company is to do plays that have a strong theatricality, in this he has certainly succeeded and Door Number 3 should prove to be a distinctive addition to LA’s theatrical landscape.
Classy and well realized.
Photo (above) by Linda Posnick: Kapil Talwalkar and Britt Harris