by Carole Di Tosti
The pursuit of happiness and a couple’s dreams of a lifetime often involve the idea of purchasing a new house to raise a family. This social folkway has been venerated for generations. Truly, none of us desires to be homeless, without status, struggling from day to day, or living in insecure surroundings where our children are threatened. But at what spiritual, moral and ethical cost do we achieve our dreams? Do we even contemplate the journey to “wealth” that purchasing a home signifies?
Playwright Philip Ridley conceptualizes the social/cultural more, “the dream home of a lifetime” by flipping the more on its head in an extreme iteration with absolutely terrorizing and hysterical results in his profoundly sardonic comedy Radiant Vermin, wonderfully directed by David Mercatali. Ridley does this through the “confessions” of a young couple who share with us how they pursued their dream home and renovated it to become beauteous for their children.
The playwright focuses a blaring spotlight about what obtaining, renovating and investing in the good life actually signifies with all of its ramifications of global consumerism and conspicuous consumption. He includes the crass cultural obsessions that encourage our ever burgeoning acquisitiveness to have “more,” be “grander,” be “happier.” Thematically, Ridley suggests these perceived “goods” are in effect evils which have engineered the frenetic pace of “modern” life which devours us and dehumanizes so that we are no longer recognizable to ourselves as good but are in effect monstrous to ourselves and others.
How the playwright effects these themes involves sheer genius: superb, playful writing, zany, magical plot arcs, pristine characterizations, and acutely rhythmic and cleverly paced humor throughout. Ridley adroitly manages to be paradoxical, ironic, satiric by using hyperbole and understatement in tropes that hit the bulls-eye of truth to reveal how we use rationalizations to keep understanding at bay and function amidst hypocrisy and double-dealing.
Ollie and Jill are portrayed by Sean Michael Verey and Scarlett Alice Johnson. They raise the stakes of humor and timing to admirable levels as they make us believe their every nuance. They deliver quintessential performances. The newlyweds are a metaphoric representation of the young, enthusiastic and upright whose only dark cloud is their living arrangement in the “crime capital of the universe,” where Russian drug dealers recently gassed themselves most likely cooking meth or another lethal substance.
When an incredible opportunity of a new home arrives in the person of Miss Dee (in a sly, sweet, wickedly unassuming and wonderful portrayal by Debra Baker), they are lured. Miss Dee leads a new department connected to “the governments housing program.” Though this may be an offer “too good to be true,” it sounds logical when Miss Dee explains that they are to fix up the free home to attract others to the empty development. The caveat is that they are not to discuss who gave them the home for it would create envy and outrage from neighbors.
The thought of their dire present conditions and their shrinking hopes for their new baby’s life prompt them to finally accept Miss Dee’s offer. And thus begins the incredible, supernatural journey of Ollie and Jill as they renovate the property into a fabulous home likened to one of those of the rich and famous.
The playwright immediately engages us with a situation all of us have faced unless we were born with a “silver spoon in our mouths” and inheritors of vast tracks of land accumulated by 7 generations of wealth and trust funds.
The production enthralls, mesmerizes, shocks, agreeably satisfies our “middle class” notions,” then rocks us to the core. The play is never preachy, but it slams you through quiet revelations throughout, sweetly showing that for every step up the ladder of prosperity, someone pays with their lives and substance. For every new family in a home, there are more homeless who must find shelter as the developers raise their prices to make their profits that are covered in blood. It’s the marvelous divine comedy with all its beauty and ugliness and you won’t stop talking about it much after the lights come up at the end.
This whopping, “LOL” must-see cultural satire is currently playing in sold out houses at 59E59 Theaters located at 59 East 59 Street in Manhattan. The production runs for 90 minutes without an intermission and ends on July third. You may purchase tickets at website: http://www.59e59.org/boxoffice.php or by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200.
Photo: Carol Rosegg