For those of us who live in Los Angeles, the idea of a dream home being given to us is more than a dream—it’s a unicorn dancing on the head of Nicholas Cage who is shooting marshmallow cupcakes at Big Bird while singing “Fireworks” by Katy Perry illusion of a fantasy. We have all seen those illusions so many times and we know there is always something rotten behind such a beautiful façade.
So when Door Number 3 launched its new theater company with the production RADIANT VERMIN and its premise of a young married couple being given exactly that—a dream house for free, all expenses paid—I was immediately interested in seeing what the fine print on this deal was going to be when it was revealed.
And what an awesome cost it ultimately turns out to be.
Tim True, the recent Portland transplant to Los Angeles, has already found success with launching theater companies. He created Portland’s acclaimed Third Rail Repertory Theatre and was determined to make this production a statement for the types of shows and ideas that will interest his new company.
He’s done a great job here, as this play starts with a darkly comic premise and then explodes in the second act into a full-blown satire that reads like a live Tales From the Crypt episode. Using only three actors, RADIANT VERMIN drags us into being willing accomplices for a tale of dark humor and very macabre acts.
Telling too much about this play will spoil the secrets held within but there are a few windows in this house that don’t show too much. Married couple Jill (Britt Harris) and Ollie (Kapil Talwalkar) live in a rundown housing area where crime is rampant. So when Miss Dee (Laura Faye Smith) appears at their doorstep like a funhouse version of Mary Poppins with the offer of a free house, they are quite willing to take her up on the deal. They have a child coming, after all, and they want to live somewhere nice.
What they get is a rundown house in an empty neighborhood. So empty, in fact, that it’s not long before a homeless man ends up inside the house. Ollie goes to check on him and the rest is far too delicious to give away here. But suffice it to say that a lovely home and good neighbors are things many people would sacrifice quite a lot to have.
RADIANT VERMIN’s plot takes all the turns that anyone familiar with old Twilight Zone episodes might expect but does so with a glee that is infectious and dare I say charming in its awfulness. True’s direction of the script captures all of its essence and spins it to an even greater effect thanks to a simple but very effective set by Pete Hickok and some exceptional sound design by Christopher Moscatiello. The combination of talents behind the scenes here creates a beautiful tale in a world that is at once sparse and lush in engaging combinations.
But the real joy of this show comes in the form of the actors. Smith (playing multiple roles) performs the duties of exposition and plot device in exceptional ways, taking what could have been simplistic characters and giving them depth that has both pathos and sincerity. Harris and Talwalkar begin the show with a charm that belies the very dark actions they’ve been undertaking. It’s acting while acting and they both pull it off with ease. But the second act is where they absolutely explode into a tour-de-force. In one scene, they play multiple characters at a self-called ‘garden party of hell’. Character after character appears, all of them played by only the two actors. The precision and speed at which Harris and Talwalkar switch from one character to another is so good I cannot effectively write it here. But this duet is good. This duet is very, very good. I love a good snappy, fast, comically dangerous scene—and both of these actors absolutely nailed it.
RADIANT VERMIN is a tale both dark and comic, both fantastic and intimate. It speaks to the idea of what someone will do for their family and what someone will do for their greed. This production illuminates those themes with style and grace and creates a stellar first production for a company that I hope to see more from very soon. Right now, you should go see this production as fast as you can because it’s a great production of a truly terrible story and the equitably despicable characters within it.
RADIANT VERMIN will have performances until November 18 and will take place on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. All tickets are $32. For more information visit www.dn3theatre.org.