Dispensing with the fourth wall, Jill (Scarlett Alice Johnson) and Ollie (Sean Michael Verey) tell us/enact the curious story of their dream house:
A struggling young couple reduced to living in “the crime capital of the universe,” Red Ocean Estate, Jill and Ollie are in love, about to have their first baby, and, as the British are wont to do, getting on with it despite circumstances.
One day, an unexpected letter arrives from the local council’s D.S.R.C.D.H = The Department of Social Regeneration Through the Creation of Dream Homes, offering a new house, no obvious strings attached. Ollie is convinced it’s a “pathetic telly show,” a joke. Jill insists they check it out.
Driving to the (map enclosed) location, the two discover a new, quite uninhabited development. Finding the door unlocked, they explore the house. Jill loves it. Miss Dee (Debra Baker), ostensibly an official from the Council, appears (out of the audience). Armed with a discomfiting amount of personal information on their lives, she says the couple was chosen in order to attract other, paying inhabitants to the neighborhood by renovating the house. Ollie, it seems, is handy. Jill has taste. The few seemingly harmless stipulations include maintaining discretion and making improvements.
Ollie feels it seems to good to be true… Jill is set on bettering their lives for the baby, however, so a contract is signed. They move in. Ollie tackles wiring and plumbing. That night, they hear sounds coming from the kitchen. Was the back door locked?! Ollie goes down to investigate carrying the only “weapon” he can find, a candlestick. (He describes and mimes every tense move on the way.) The floor is covered with ransacked food. A grey-bearded, probably homeless man comes at Ollie with a knife. In the ensuing scuffle, the vagrant falls, hits his head, and dies.
When, panicked, Ollie and Jill go back down to dispense with the body, it’s disappeared! Additionally, the kitchen has morphed into the Selfridge’s model Jill longed for. Herein lies the tale. We watch as the house is “revised” room by room, as the couple’s lives increasingly resemble a glossy magazine spread; as upscale neighbors move in and property values rise.
The truth, however, as it was proffered in the sixties, is that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Our protagonists are in a quandary, both moral and material. They need our help. Don’t worry, there’s no actual audience participation.
Playwright Philip Ridley’s black comedy is timely, original, and skillfully produced. Even when you realize what’s going on, small surprises and manifest reactions make taking the trip a buoyant pleasure. Ridley’s ending is priceless.
Director David Mercatali straddles stylization (exaggerated, precise, sometimes incredibly rapid movement) and naturalism. The empty stage is well utilized with cogent mime. No point in analyzing. It works.
Debra Baker gives us a splendidly sinister, while outwardly proper Miss Dee, then morphs into a second character whose existence, supported by eminently sensitive, realistic portrayal, has us catching our collective breath.
Both Scarlett Alice Johnson and Sean Michael Verey are warm and animated. Required to flip from narration to participation and back, from quick turns as other characters (especially in a party scene that will make your head spin-the only section which would benefit from slight cutting), they are adept and winning. We feel both for and with them. The casting match is perfect.
Designer William Reynold’s all white stage leaves our imaginations to run wild, concocting what’s described. Ollie’s casual clothes are fine, but Jill’s dark tights and clodhoppers distract, looking wrong throughout.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Scarlett Alice Johnson, Debra Baker, Sean Michael Verey
Other photos Scarlett Alice Johnson and Sean Michael Verey
Supporting Wall, Metal Rabbit Productions, and Soho Theatre presents
for Brits Off Broadway
Radiant Vermin by Philip Ridley
Directed by David Mercatali
59 East 59th Street
Through July 3, 2016