59E59 Theater is doing a great run called Brits Off- Broadway, where they display some of the best plays and actors from the UK. I had the pleasure of seeing Radiant Vermin, which is a horrifyingly humorous play written by Philip Ridley. I say horrifying because its theme is literally gruesome. As Millennial couple and parents to be Ollie (Sean Michael Verey) and Jill (Scarlett Alice Johnson) describe how they attained their dream home, you begin to cringe and laugh at their murderous antics.
Radiant Vermin strikes straight for the woes of materialism and the housing market. Ollie and Jill are living in a shanty ghetto in England when they are mysteriously offered a new home for free. The play does not delve into how, who, and why the couple is chosen for this random act and nor do the couple. The offer is literally too rich to pass, but as the play proceeds you begin to witness supernatural elements to this new deal. Every time the couple murders a homeless person, the room in which that person dies undergoes a high-end renovation. The plot is madness, but the charisma of the two leads allows you to buy the craziness with little questions. Their stunning portrayal into the moral disintegration of the two protagonists leaves you uncomfortable because you can see it actually happening.
Sean Michael Verey and Scarlett Alice Johnson are exceptional in this play. They are like a burst of high-octane energy, particularly in their reenactment of their son’s birthday party. This scene solidifies the magnetism of their talent. You will laugh and drop your jaw at the physical and spiritual stamina they use to keep you enthralled. They are probably some of the most likeable actors you will witness on stage because, technically, their characters are murderers. Catching yourself liking these horrendous people will certainly make you wonder about your own self.
As the couple smile and quip with the audience, beautifully breaking the 4th wall, you will be placed on the edge of your seat: you like them despite their horrors. I elaborate that they are Millennials and charismatic because part of your pull towards them is their youthfulness and desperation. There is a natural freshness to Jill and Ollie that makes them appear bright even at their darkest. They begin sincere and eager to rise in a world that is fraught with classism. Knowing their initial pain is what makes it so creepy to watch their wicked turn. They soon become numb, “money-pots”, competing and judging their now blossoming neighborhood. To witness their murder rate go up and up just because Jill cannot figure out what nursery look she wants is disgustingly realistic. They are killing people to get their catalogue, million dollar home and are numb to that fact. They have brief, episodes of remorse that leaves them speechless and physically stunted. It is these scenes where the audience realizes, as well, that their new favorite couple is horrible. Dealing with those emotions are, in part, what makes this play a unique experience.
The set is all white with no furniture and only three actors leaving the audience to imagine the lavish home that has taken so many souls including Ollie’s and Jill’s. Ultimately, the play is a riveting look into the power of money and greed in turning bright persons into darkened, insane beings. You will walk out wondering if the cost for material wealth outweighs or even competes with value of spiritual ones.
Radian Vermin is playing in 59E59 till July 3. For more information Click Here. It is a 90 minute play with no intermission.