Sunday, March 10, 2024

"Radiant Vermin" at Lyric Arts

"We are thrilled to have you join us on this wildly dark, complex, and comedic ride... This show touches on a variety of intricate themes that include the unhoused, gentrification, myths surrounding the middle class, religious trauma, morality, and so much more. While I could try to explain further, it's better not to give too much away and just let you experience the journey." This note in the program from director Callie Aho pretty much sums up everything that can be said to someone considering seeing Lyric Arts' production of Radiant Vermin. The premise of the smart, funny, and super dark three-person play is so outrageous, I can't even begin to talk about it without spoiling the experience of seeing this play. But I will add that the direction, acting, and design are spot-on, so if any of the above sounds intriguing to you, I highly encourage you to head up to Anoka to see this play before it closes on March 24.

Radiant Vermin was written by English playwright Philip Ridley, with whom I thought I was unfamiliar, but as it turns out I have seen one of his plays - the devastatingly beautiful Vincent River, produced about five years ago by unfortunately short-lived theater company Arrow Theater. That play features a mother grieving her gay son who was killed in a hate crime, and this play is also dark and deals with relevant themes, but is also shockingly funny. In it, married couple Jill and Ollie tell their story directly to the audience, often correcting or prompting each other. Why they're doing so will become clear later in the story, but for now we follow on their journey as they are given a fixer-upper home as part of a new government program. (Note: if someone offers to give you a house for free, just say no.) Jill is pregnant, so they scurry to renovate their new home before baby Benji arrives. But since they have to pay for the renovations themselves, they need to find creative ways to make it happen. They do, and they are thrilled with the results, until they find themselves in way over their heads (in a Macbethian sort of way).

Callie Baack and Noah Hynick (photo by Molly Weibel)
Directed by Callie Aho, this three-person cast really is fantastic in making the audience like these characters, despite their questionable choices. The play is well-staged, utilizing all parts of the two-level set that looks like a house under construction, unfinished walls, plastic tarps, and a movable metal staircase (scenic design by Cory Skold). New-to-me actor Callie Baack, along with Noah Hynick, who has previously appeared in a few Lyric shows, are so fun to watch in this fourth-wall breaking script, really believable as this couple just trying to make a nice home for their family. And they speak in delightful British accents, as well as voice other characters in the story, including one frenzied scene towards the end of the play in which the couple hosts a garden party and the whole neighborhood shows up - Jill/Callie and Ollie/Noah playing everyone. Rounding out the cast is Danielle Krivinchuk, who is also excellent and beautifully accented as two very different characters.

the house (photo by Molly Weibel)
Without giving anything away, there are some supernatural elements to the story, in which the lighting and sound design (by Shannon Elliott) play a part. Doors open and close on cue as if by magic, and there's a definite creepy feeling as unexpected things happen.

There was a pretty small audience on the Saturday night performance I attended, and this show deserves as big of an audience as Lyric's well-done and popular musicals. Radiant Vermin is a rarely done play by a playwright not often produced in the U.S. (read more about Philip Radley in my fellow Twin Cities Theater Blogger Keith's review over at Life in Revue, as someone more familiar with his work). It asks difficult questions, like what would you do to get what you want, or provide for your family? And what happens to the people who get in the way of that? Questions about consumerism, greed, "keeping up with the Joneses," when is enough enough? Head to Anoka for a whirlwind 100 minutes (no intermission) that asks these questions in a darkly funny and entertaining way, without offering easy answers.