by Annie Sadovsky Koepf
A universal desire is that for a comfortable home and hearth that provides a reprieve from the outside world. As you enter Live Theatre Workshop for Radiant Vermin, by Philip Ridley, you’ll notice that the stage is presented as an unfinished home. Even before the play starts, two of the actors are peeking out from backstage. Has the play already started? No, but the intrigue has.When the curtain rises, we are introduced to a young couple earnestly searching for a new nest for the baby on the way. Jill, played by Samantha Cormier, and Ollie, played by Steve Wood, are an English couple who really want a home of their own. Worldwide, the dream of home ownership often remains just that: a dream. In this play, however, the couple magically receive a letter saying they have won a new home.
Of course they are skeptical. Who wouldn’t be? They drive to the area with unfinished homes and the project in disrepair. Miss Dee, played by Leslie J. Miller, meets them. Is she the magical fairy godmother? After convincing them to sign, the house is theirs. Of course, it is unfinished, but Dee assures them that Ollie can do all of the physical repairs while Jill can decorate and lovingly make it a home. The first night in the home is like camping with no water, electricity, or heat, but they are excited by the possibilities! They see a campfire outside, and realize that there is a homeless encampment in the project. Suddenly noises are heard downstairs and Wood goes to investigate. Of course it is one of the homeless, and what ensues makes us question to what lengths good people will go to realize their dreams. At the end of the evening, Jill’s catalog perfect vision of a kitchen magically appears. But how, and at what cost?
Director Maryann Green has done a masterful job with casting. Cormier, Wood, and Miller work together to weave this fanciful tale that makes us suspend our disbelief and think that magic really can happen. The characters are multidimensional and relatable. Cormier and Wood are brilliant as they use no props, but we have no problem seeing the baby, or going up and down the imaginary stairs with them. During one scene, they play three of the couples in their neighborhood with rapid fire delivery that is so convincing, it left my head spinning. I couldn’t believe how instantaneously they could change from one character to the next and back again. Miller plays not only Miss Dee, but also a homeless woman, Kay. Her portrayal of Kay is extremely touching and poignant. As she is the only homeless person that we actually get to meet, it gives a face and persona to those with whom we rarely connect — many of us even avert our eyes when we see them on the street.
The actors engage the audience from the beginning. The fourth wall, the invisible division between the actors and the audience, is broken repeatedly in the play. We are not innocent bystanders. Cormier even invites us to raise our hands at one point to see if we agree with her. When she is giving one monologue about her background as a Christian and her dealings with the homeless she addresses us, and makes eye contact with the audience. We are made to realize that it is not only the actors dealing with the homeless in the play, but our own engagement with them in our own world that we must thoughtfully consider.
The set, costumes, and lighting all are very understated but powerful. That being said, we are not distracted by them. It is the story and the acting that takes center stage. The entire production crew has to be commended for allowing the story to take center stage through the subtle way that they each supported this vision. Often less can be more, and it is definitely true in this production.
This delightful dark comedy is definitely a story for our time. The issues of home affordability are paramount to all young people. Homelessness and how we treat those who are not the same as us is a daily cause for debate and discussion. But tantamount in today’s world is the increasing disconnect between what we say our core values are, and how we either act in ways that support or undermine those values. Finally, we must ask whether the end justify the means, and how greed affects us both individually and collectively. Yes, this play is very timely and begs all of us to reflect, soul-search, and answer those questions for ourselves.
Radiant Vermin runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM, and Sundays at 3:00 PM through March 28. Ticket prices are $15. LTW’s box office is 520 327-4242, and the website is livetheatreworkshop.org.